Tag Archives: Iron Man

Reach for the Stars – The Dream Marvel Forgot

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Bully:  “You just don’t know when to give up, do you?”

Steve Rogers: (Panting) “I can do this all day!”

That was one of the best lines in Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger.  I saw that movie after Marvel’s The Avengers came out, but it only confirmed what I had seen of Steve Rogers in that film.  Though I sometimes wonder about Chris Evans, I know there is no need to wonder about Cap.

I am sharing a picture with you today.  It was made for the backs of certain comics issued by Marvel several decades ago – at the time when we were still intent on travel into space.  I have no idea what the “Young Astronaut” program being hyped in the small white print was or is, and I do not really care.  The picture of Captain America standing behind two stargazing children is what I want to discuss today.

A number of years ago, I ended up with some leftover comics.  There was some housecleaning going on, and these books were on the chopping block.  I was asked if I wanted any of the comics, since I had begun perusing them curiously instead of helping with the packing and the cleaning.  I said yes after making sure the original owners did not want them back, then packed the books away for some time.  Oh, I read a few of them, but I was interested in other things when I first acquired the stories.  I felt a little silly reading the comics, too, despite the fact that I loved the characters in them (or most of them).

Also, at the time my ability to read comics was almost non-existent.  I had been raised on normal books, so it took a while before I figured out how the story in a comic book progressed from panel to panel.  In my limited defense, there were no comic book stores in my vicinity, and I usually eschewed graphic novels.  Garfield comics are not nearly as detailed or involved as Marvel’s were, either.  No one I knew at the time was a big comic book reader, so I was on my own.

Eventually, though, I decided to tackle that stack of comics to find out which ones I really could not live without and which could go.  Some of the comics were easy to ditch; they were pieces of story arcs, and I did not have the rest of the story.  Flick, there it goes.  Some of the pieces were not to my taste.  Flick, there they go!   One of them was from the Dark Phoenix Saga – I hated the cartoons based on that storyline, so I was not interested in the comics, period.  Bye-bye!

Others stayed.  They were fascinating, as much for the advertisements as for the stories.  The ads were like snapshots of time.  There are not many comics – or other media, for that matter – which advertise Daisy rifles or BB and air guns these days.  To see them displayed on the back cover of a comic in the same way as video games was refreshing.  It was like stepping into a previous, freer era I had heard about but which I had never really seen in a concrete way before.

Then I closed one of the comics and found the above picture on the back.

It took my breath away.  Literally, all the air went out of my lungs and I know my eyes nearly popped out of my head.  If advertisements for rifles and BB guns are rare today, posters encouraging space exploration have gone the way of the dinosaur in most media outlets.  Even the few we have now are not always this poetic.

You look at the picture and the first thing you see is the blue background.  It makes you sit up and pay attention.  You notice the stars peripherally as the star-gazing figure of Captain America pulls your eye toward the center of the page.  Then you see he has his left hand on the shoulder of a boy who is standing in front of him.  The boy cannot be more than twelve.  He in turn has his left hand resting on the shoulder of a girl who is probably his younger sister.  All three are gazing up at the star above the R in Reach.

If you look closely, you will notice that the boy and girl’s mouths seem to be slightly open.  The sight of the stars hanging above them is so spectacular that they have forgotten to keep their mouths closed completely.

Cap does not have this same look of slack-jawed wonder.  He is looking at the stars in a different way.  You can just imagine him telling the children that, someday, they are going to get to explore those stars.  That he wants them to go where no man has gone before, to see things and new worlds he will never get to explore.  The life of an Avenger, like the life of a soldier, means that you get to visit all sorts of wonderful and amazing places, but you barely get glimpses of them while you are there.  Cap has been to the stars…. but he has never seen them except in passing flashes.

These kids, Cap hopes, will be explorers.  They are the future, the next generation, the heroes of tomorrow.  Not heroes like him – they will be heroes for the territory they open up, the discoveries which they make, and the worlds which they find.

The boy and his sister will not be alone when they go out to do this, either.  They will have each other.  You can see that in the way the boy’s hand lies on the girl’s shoulder, assuring her that he is there for her, as her standing in front of him reminds him that he is not alone.

I think I nearly cried when I saw this picture first.  It still makes my eyes a little wet as I look at it now.  It reminds me of when I was a child, dreaming of being on the starship Enterprise.  It recalls my old dreams about the unending possibilities there would be for being a hero, like the characters I admired and loved and watched so faithfully.

I wish Marvel had more posters like this.  Not posters with just any old hero on them, readers, but posters with a hero who adds dignity and honor to the picture.  Cap does that here.  If you tried to redo this picture with Captain Marvel, or Iron Man, or Black Panther, or Star-Lord, or even my other favorite Avenger, Hawkeye, it would not work.  Because the only hero who looks at the stars in that way is Captain America/Steve Rogers; very few of the other heroes would be able to do it, and even they would fall short of the gravitas he adds to this picture.

Not that I think Marvel would not try to have them do it, mind you; I just know the attempt would fail.  I could hope for it to backfire in their faces spectacularly, but I already know that does not learn ‘em.  To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.”  Marvel is repeating its mistakes over and over again, while expecting a different result.

We live in a crazy world that is always on the brink of falling apart, readers.  I know that.  I just wish that there were not quite so many of us going crazy right along with it, destroying so many good things as we go.  This picture – this understanding of Captain America and Marvel Comics which the writers once had…it was a good thing.  It is too sad that their heirs and maybe even some of the original writers themselves threw it all away in an attempt to be “hip” to get in the good graces of the in-crowd.

In the interest of ending this post on a happy note, readers, please take another look at the photo before you leave.  Feel free to copy it, if you like.  But whether you do or do not, please, look at it one more time.  Look at it and remember it.  Look at it and remember the Latin word for “ever higher”:  Excelsior.  Look at it, and remember your own dreams.

Let’s try to keep reaching ever higher, readers.  Even if it is just a little bit higher than before, a little is better than nothing at all.

Excelsior.

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Captain America: Civil War – James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine

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“Why do you hate War Machine so much?”

“I don’t hate him. He just doesn’t interest me. Why do you like him?”

“His armor’s got more guns than a military base. What’s not to like about that?”

This is a paraphrased version of a running argument a friend and I had going for some years about James “Rhodey” Rhodes. What I am only realizing now is that my friend and I never disagreed that the War Machine armor was cool. We were simply looking at the argument from different angles we neither expressed nor recognized. My friend was arguing from the position of someone who liked the War Machine armor, the gizmo that the character uses. I was not looking at the armor – I was looking at the character. And in the end, we both found Rhodey lacking in the character department. He earns a solid shrug and a “meh,” no matter how we try to measure him.

It is a real shame when a character is only memorable and likable for the tools they use rather than for themselves. And it is interesting that, in a comic book universe which usually eschews sidekicks, Marvel should go to the trouble of making one. Let me explain by contrasting Tony and Rhodey’s friendship with the friendship between Captain America and the Falcon.

No one can say that Sam Wilson is a foil for Steve Rogers and prove it capably. Falcon has his own personality, habits, life experiences, and a sense of humor that is all his own. His skills could not be more divergent from Cap’s if the writers tried to make them so. In the comics, Sam has a personal empathetic tie with his pet falcon Redwing, but he can also empathetically connect with and command any other bird in New York City. He can quite possibly reach beyond the city limits with this power, too. He wears a wing pack in combat, spending most of his time in a battle flying, darting in and around opponents to bring them down.

Even in the films, there remains plenty of daylight between Steve and Sam. The wing pack was never in Cap’s arsenal; the man hardly ever flies, although he can when he has to do so. For the most part, Cap is the quintessential soldier; he stays on the ground and fights the enemy on his terms there.

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Now compare this to Tony and Rhodey’s friendship. I am not quite clear on how long they have known each other in the comics, so I will stick with the films. Iron Man showed Rhodey as a down-to-earth counterbalance for Tony’s flights of juvenility, which is funny considering that James Rhodes is a “zoomie.” Then Iron Man 2 saw Rhodey grabbing one of Tony’s prototype suits on behalf of the government before literally trying to knock some sense into his drunken friend. Iron Man 3 did not portray him in a much better light. Although he liked the name War Machine for the armor he essentially stole from his best friend on behalf of the government, he allowed focus groups and the Air Force to change the name to the milquetoast “Iron Patriot.”

Rhodey is Tony’s babysitter for the first and second films, barely escaping that fate again in Iron Man 3. Then, when he tries to impress Tony and Thor with a story from his own repertoire of exploits in Avengers: Age of Ultron, it falls flat on them and the audience. Let’s admit it – while it is cute to imagine a general’s reaction to a tank being delivered to him by a man in a metal suit, it does not truly impress. It is a story that exposes the fact that Rhodey is a bouncer who can intimidate mid-level bullies, whilst the Avengers are the commandos sent in to dispense with hardcore villains such as HYDRA and Ultron. Sam recognized this when he told Cap, “Avenging is your world… and your world is crazy.” Rhodey could not take the hint from Thor and Tony’s expectant silence.

I think it likely that most people look at Rhodey and Sam and consider them to be nothing more than “sidekicks” or foils to Iron Man and Captain America. However, as I pointed out above, Sam does not qualify as either a sidekick or a foil. He is a man who can take care of himself, he has the strength to make his own decisions, and he can live with their consequences. The sad fact is that Rhodey cannot do this; he is always looking for orders, for guidance from above – which is cute because, as an Air Force pilot, he is usually “above” everyone else most of the time, physically speaking.

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The moment which best defines these differences between the two characters in Captain America: Civil War is the yelling match they have over the Accords after Ross leaves. What are the first words we hear out of Rhodey’s mouth in this battle of words? “Secretary Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor, which is one more than you [Sam] have,” he says to Falcon.

Excuse me?!?!? Instead of actually arguing about the strength of the Sokovia Accords, Rhodey immediately jumps to the fact that Ross has a Congressional Medal of Honor??? Seriously?!

While we are on this subject just how, exactly, did Ross earn that Congressional Medal of Honor? Did he receive it after Bruce Banner became the Hulk, or after he turned Emil Blonsky into the Abomination in order to fight fire with fire? Maybe he received it for letting the Abomination wreck Harlem after he went rogue on Ross.

Yes, I am being very sarcastic here. The fact is that there is no way in the walls of the world Ross should have received that Medal. He did nothing to earn it. I would bet good money he got it for political expediency. He does not deserve the Medal; not now, not in the future, never.

But the fact that Rhodey thinks this is sufficient evidence that Ross has his and the Avengers’ best interests at heart is what is truly distressing. When someone holds a gun in his face and says, “Your wallet or your life,” should he consider it a sign that the mugger respects him? No, he should not, as we would not. Presuming he did not freeze and do what he was told, Rhodey would beat the mugger up, take his gun away from him, and call the cops. Yet Ross can throw down the gauntlet in front of him and the Avengers, but because he has a Congressional Medal of Honor, it is a sign of respect for Ross’ “greatness” that Rhodey and the team should immediately sign on to the Accords – in essence, hand over their wallet?

It only gets better when Rhodey says, “A hundred and seventeen countries have signed this, Sam. A hundred and seventeen! But you’re just like, ‘It’s cool, no big deal.’”

No, it is not a big deal! How many of those countries routinely violate human rights? China and North Korea are in the U.N., right? Is China a model of how a country must respect human rights? No, it is not. North Korea shoots off missiles to threaten the Orient and swagger in front of the U.S., they keep their own people in prison camps on the brink of starvation, and the rest of their population are stuck in grinding poverty – and in time. Their fashions and technology are still in (at least) the 1970s. They are an example of posturing, backward fools, not progress!

A good number of the other hundred seventeen countries which agreed to the Accords have records which are about as bad, if not worse. But does Rhodey mention that here? Does he even stop to consider it? Not in front of us. A hundred seventeen countries sign a document proclaiming him an attack dog which they want to leash, and just like that “it’s cool.”

It is not cool, and Rhodey cannot see that. What is more, he refuses to see it. He brags about Ross’ medals, yet the leader of the Avengers – his leader – has far more experience. Cap has earned and shunned more medals and honors than Ross could ever hope to gain… But instead of listening to him, Rhodey calls him “dangerously arrogant”? Something is very wrong here.

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It becomes worse when War Machine drops in to “stop” Cap, Sam, and T’Challa in their “fight” over the escaping Bucky Barnes at the Bucharest tunnel. “Nice job, Cap,” Rhodey says scathingly. “You’re a criminal.”

No mention of German Special Forces turning Bucharest into Swiss cheese in an attempt to kill Bucky I notice, Rhodey. Or are you more familiar with the range and danger of a mini-gun than most civilians walking down the street are? Of course you are; you are a U.S. Airman. They are civilians who are minding their own business when a Special Forces helicopter suddenly drops leaden rain from above trying to kill a wanted fugitive. I guess the U.N. does not have any statutes saying a man is innocent of a crime until proven guilty. Wow, what a shocker.

Cap’s attempt to reach out to Bucky – even the initial attempt by the German ground troops to capture him – was more sensible than that. But Rhodey’s scorn is not for the idiocy of the bureaucrats who called in a helicopter and ordered the men aboard to fire at Bucky regardless of potential “collateral damage” to the civilians he was running past. It is instead all aimed at Cap, who was fighting smarter, not harder.

We do not see Rhodey again until the battle in the Leipzig airport. Iron Man zaps Clint’s chopper with an EMP device and lands in front of Cap, War Machine right on his tail. The two take a moment to verbally beat up on Cap, and then the fighting starts.

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Cap keeps both T’Challa and Rhodey where he can see them at the beginning of the fight. For a guy with a metal suit, Rhodey does not do very well in personal combat with Cap. Yes, he is going for the knockout punch instead of a kill shot, but his fighting ability is still downright sorry in this confrontation. He has supposedly been working with and training under the greatest soldier of all time, whom he should know well enough to fight competently. But in practice he is getting his metal fanny handed to him on a platter.

Those are some quality learning abilities you have, Rhodes. Why were you put in the new Avengers lineup again? Oh, that’s right – for your suit.

In contrast, Falcon more than holds his own with Tony, bopping him in the head with Redwing at one point and thereby properly disorienting him. He has less physical protection than Rhodey, yet he does better fighting the Invincible Armored Iron Man than the “zoomie” Avenger does in his battle with the unarmored First Avenger!

It does not get any better for Rhodes when Lang has Cap throw a fuel truck at him, Panther, and Black Widow. Now how Scott could mix up even a German fuel tanker with a German water truck is beyond me, but the fact is that he managed to do it. And instead of smartly moving aside, catching the truck, or blowing it up, Rhodes just stands there and lets it hit him. Brilliant, War Machine – NOT!!!

Rhodey is dead weight for most of the following incidents in the battle. He is a convenient ragdoll for Ant-Man and an equally easy target for the Scarlet Witch. Where his teammates and everyone else on Team Cap show innovation and creativity during the battle, Rhodes makes himself nothing but a handy punching bag or darn-it doll.

Things only become worse when he tells Vision to get Sam off his back. Distracted by his concern for Wanda – whom Rhodey hit with a high-powered sonic – Vision does as he is asked and fires at Sam. But the nascent synthetic man is growing into a very human character, and this means that his shot is off from the get-go because of his concern for his friend. He misses Sam and hits the War Machine arc reactor, shutting down the armor and leaving Rhodey to fly the suit “dead stick.”

If anything, Rhodey ought to sue Tony for poor workmanship. The Iron Man armor(s) can go into the upper atmosphere, through a portal into space, help blast apart a floating city, all at low power capacity, and the War Machine armor cannot keep him from shattering several vertebrae after a two hundred foot free fall? Yeah, right!

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All this is not to make light of Rhodey’s significant injuries. To his credit, Rhodes takes the devastating news like a man. When Tony makes him a set of special leg braces and he inevitably falls down, he manfully refuses help and gets set to start practicing on his own again.

This scene was very good, but not necessarily for Rhodey. It was good for Tony because now, in this moment where his best friend is incapable of doing what he used to do – of being who he used to be, even – Tony gets a glimmering of what Steve has been doing since he learned that Bucky was alive. For three movies, Steve has fought to get his old battle brother back. And in this film, he stands beside and supports Bucky as the other man tries to find himself after years of being lost in a mental/emotional waste land.

Rhodey’s journey is more physical and less likely to get other people killed. But Tony is willing to do whatever it takes to help him get back on his feet. If he is ready to do that for Rhodey, why should he begrudge Steve for his desire to help Bucky relearn how to be a normal person?

Tony will probably take forever to forgive Steve in the next Avengers film(s). In this moment during the movie, he only has a slight understanding of what Steve is going through. And we all know that Tony is quite prepared and willing to rationalize away anything and everything he does not want to face or admit. He avoided accepting his grief over his parents’ deaths; he is still avoiding it now. And he has decided to avoid accepting responsibility for his actions by signing the Accords. Stark has no problem lying to himself about important matters until the eleventh hour.

But after a point, he cannot run from the truth. Sooner or later, it will occur to him that what he is doing for Rhodey is the same thing Steve is doing for Bucky, just on a less impressive scale. As for Rhodey, well, for the moment he seems to be a lost cause as far as recognizing the truth. If anything, he is better at rationalizing than Tony is. It remains to be seen how well that will work in Avengers: Infinity War.

Of course, with his back almost completely shattered, Rhodey might not have any part in the upcoming Marvel films. That would be a shame; it would be nice for War Machine to step out of Iron Man’s shadow and show some real character of his own for a change.

Given past experience, though, that does not look to be a very viable possibility at this time. Bummer.

Secret Avengers – Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

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Some Captain America: Civil War “Easter Eggs”

There were a lot of “Easter Eggs,” as they are called, in Captain America: Civil War. I did not see them ALL, but I noticed/thought of a few to share with you, readers.

For one, is it not interesting how much the Accords anger Sam Wilson/Falcon? This may hearken back to the original comics. In the “mainstream” Marvel universe, the government had tried to control the Avengers back in the 1970s (I think). They reduced the team’s active roster to seven individuals whom they selected.

One of their choices was Falcon, who loved being an Avenger. Already a long time partner of Cap’s in the other’s solo series, Sam was happy to finally be a part of his friend’s exclusive superhero club. What he did not love about the arrangement, though, was why the government put him on the team.

The government wanted the Avengers to be a “more diverse” team, and so they added Sam to the active roster simply because he was black. No other reason. Not his fighting skills, which he had honed at Cap’s side; not his empathetic link with his trained falcon Redwing – heck, not even his wing pack was the reason they chose him to be on the team!

No. They chose him because of his race, so they could make a political point/gain a political advantage from his life. Yeah, that is super flattering, isn’t it?

Sam’s attitude with his teammates was genial, fun-loving, and practically sunny during this time. His relationship with their government liaison, Henry Peter Gyrich, was stormy and antagonistic. He hated being a token player, and he was not afraid to say so in front of the public. Sam wanted to be an Avenger on his own merit – which he was, in the eyes of his teammates. But the government put him on the team just to make a statement.

And Sam hated that.

So his dislike of the Accords in Civil War could be seen as a nod to this, in a way. Sam fears he and his friends will be locked up in a dungeon somewhere to rot if they sign the Accords, and his fears are well founded. History has shown that when one signs one’s freedom away it is almost impossible to get it back. The only way Sam and the rest of Team Cap regained their liberty in the movie was through outside help from Steve. And even now that they can breathe the free air again, the law considers them criminals. Outlaws with no Sherwood Forest to inhabit, Team Cap is going to have to do some fancy flying until the Infinity War films.

I think they can pull it off, though.

Now, about that fight Clint and Vision had when the archer went to pick up Wanda at the Compound. In the original comics, Hawkeye is (or maybe now was) the same age as the Maximoff twins. He became enamored of Wanda and was always flirting with her. The Scarlet Witch never returned the favor; she did not hate Clint, but she certainly seemed to find his advances annoying.

When Vision came along, Wanda fell head over heels in love with the android. After a while, the Vision developed his own personality and reciprocated the Scarlet Witch’s feelings. The two announced that they wanted to get married, which caused a huge ruckus. Quicksilver, for one, did not want his sister marrying a synthetic man.

And Clint was not happy about this sudden competition for Wanda’s affections, though by this point the battle was already lost. Neither Wanda nor Vision would be swayed, and they finally tied the knot. After they did this, Hawkeye left the Avengers because he could not stand to see the Scarlet Witch married to someone else.

Thankfully, this romantic triangle is NOT part of the film! Hallelujah!!!!! I am soooo happy!!!!

Okay, fan victory lap complete. Next!

Right, I said I was going to give you a bit of trivia about Wanda. When Tony goes to the Raft, the first inmate he sees is the Scarlet Witch, who is wearing a straight jacket and shivering in her prison cell. The manner of the Maximoff girl’s incarceration here is probably a nod to X-Men: Evolution. In that television series Wanda’s father – Magneto – had her locked up in an insane asylum because she could not control her anger, which made her probability manipulation powers run wild. While she was there she ended up wearing – guess what? – a straight jacket. She did not enjoy it in that series, either.

The inhibitor collar we see Wanda wearing in her last scene during the movie was not part of her incarceration in Evolution. However, such collars are a fixture of X-Men lore. These devices are the only things the comic book authorities have which are capable of suppressing mutant powers. Heh, I guess Disney/Marvel got something mutant-related into their films under Fox’s nose after all!

As an interesting side note, while I do not know how likely it is, if the film writers want to keep pulling plot points and tidbits from the comics, we may see Wanda in a mid or end credits scene in Doctor Strange this November. In the original stories, Wanda’s probability manipulating powers were so hard for her to control that she went looking for help to get them totally under her command.

Her choice of tutor, however, was rather… unconventional. Agatha Harkness, a bona fide witch/sorceress from Salem, Massachusetts, taught Wanda enough magic for the younger woman to make her “hex” power more stable and reliable. In doing this, Harkness realized that Wanda had great potential in the realm of magic. This led to Strange calling on the Scarlet Witch from time to time for help fighting his occult enemies. Eventually, Wanda tapped into this magical potential, becoming the “mainstream” Marvel universe’s most powerful sorceress.

This led to her going loopy at least two, perhaps three, times in the “mainstream” comics. She destroyed the Avengers (and Hawkeye) the first time. The second time, she eradicated most of the mutant powers on the planet (along with Hawkeye, temporarily). The third time, everything else in the Marvel “mainstream” universe was also flying haywire, so Wanda’s mental instability in that event was almost negligible.

Wanda’s powers in the films have so far given no real sign of being out of her control. Still, the writers could pull anything out of their hats between Civil War and the Infinity War films. This is speculation, of course, but it bears mentioning.

Now, about the Raft itself. In the comics, the Raft is a high security super villain prison. Not that you could tell, since it has been subject to prison breaks in the past. Designed to be something of an East Coast equivalent to Alcatraz, the Raft is farther out in the Atlantic in Civil War than it is in the comics. In the books, the Raft is on an island. In the film, it is an island! (It is also, apparently, kept under water until the people running it are expecting visitors.)

During the comic book Civil War, Tony and the government enforcers for Superhero Registration working with him incarcerated captured anti-Registration heroes in an inter-dimensional super villain prison known as 42. 42 was really not a safe environment for the captured heroes. Of course, since Marvel was determined to make Tony a villain (they had succeeded last I looked), this hardly mattered to him or his bosses. The heroes under Cap’s leadership who were caught were bundled off to 42 without a trial, public or otherwise, and left to rot with the criminals they had spent their lives bringing to justice.

The film, of course, could not handle the intricacies of such a prison, so the Raft was substituted in its place. That is all right by me. I do not think I could have handled 42 being jammed into the movie! The Raft was a perfect substitute – especially since its only inhabitants were the guards and the imprisoned members of Team Cap. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Raft said a million in fewer than ten minutes.

Now for Baron Zemo. Yes, in the movie, he is not a baron. (Whoop-dee-doo, so what?) In the comics, Baron Helmut Zemo is the last of a line of German nobles who have historically had an unhealthy habit of becoming evil. It practically seems to be bred into them, a trait passed from father to son as some sort of weird genetic inheritance. I do not know if there was ever a “good” Zemo in the whole family tree.

Baron Heinrich Zemo, in the comics, was one of Cap’s World War II enemies. A Nazi scientist, Heinrich Zemo had just managed to make a super glue so powerful nothing could break the adhesive. Cap showed up at about that moment and, during the ensuing battle, broke the container for the glue. The liquid spilled onto Heinrich Zemo’s head, which was covered by a hereditary hood/mask.

The mask was then permanently stuck to Heinrich’s face by his own super glue. It made eating and a few other things a bit of a problem. After he was awakened by the Avengers, Cap eventually faced Heinrich for the last time in Brazil. Light from Steve’s shield, reflected back in Zemo’s face, threw the Baron’s shot way off course. The misfired bolt started a rockslide, which killed Heinrich Zemo. Cap saw to the Nazi’s proper burial – which is more than Heinrich Zemo would have done for him – and went home.

A few years later, Zemo suddenly showed up again. Except this Zemo is not Heinrich; it is instead his son, Helmut. The guy has hung around ever since and been nothing but a plague. He can usually be seen leading his own team of anti-Avengers, which he calls the Masters of Evil.

This is one of the things from the “mainstream” comics to make it into the Civil War film. Helmut Zemo having a wife and son is new, but his father – that is old hat. In the comics, Helmut Zemo’s entire vendetta with Cap is based on the fact that he believes Steve killed his father in Brazil. The younger Baron is unwilling to distinguish between his father’s mistake and Cap’s lucky timing. Cap made his father miss, and it does not matter to Helmut that his father’s death was, basically, inadvertent. It happened, Cap was there, and so it is his fault.

Gee, that resembles Zemo’s grudge with the Avengers in the film, now doesn’t it?

In Civil War, Zemo holds all of the Avengers responsible for the deaths of his family, including the demise of his father. Though the inclusion of the senior Zemo is a seemingly throwaway bit of story, it is actually a nod by the writers to the original storytellers. Nifty little trick, I must say.

Attack 2

This is going to surprise some people, but the next thing to point out is that amazing internecine battle at the German airport. I do not know of any Avengers battles taking place in airports in the “mainstream” comics. They probably happened; I just do not know about them. But there is an X-Men battle from the original comics which took place in an airport that I know about. And unfortunately, this airport was not empty when the fighting started!

While seeing the Professor off on a well-earned vacation one day, the X-Men were confronted by a villain calling himself Eric the Red. He had taken control of Alex Summers/Havoc, the younger brother of Scott Summers/Cyclops. (Yes, I know this order has been reversed in the new X-Men films. Another reason I hate them.) Havoc knew he was being dominated, but he could not fight off the villain’s influence. Still, he was able to talk to his older brother and the other X-Men, proving that he was aware of what Eric the Red was doing to him.

Lorna Dane/Polaris, Havoc’s mind-controlled girlfriend … not so much. She was completely under the Red’s spell, and the fight spiraled out of control when she knocked Jean Grey a good one.

Storm retaliated in kind out of fury, since she and Jean were tight friends. This counterattack by Ororo in turn enraged Havoc. Mind control or no mind control, you did not want to go after his girlfriend. Not if you wanted to keep breathing!

It is a long shot to see a parallel between these two battles, I admit. But heck, the Marvel universe is full of long shots! They both took place in an airport. If nothing else, that is an odd coincidence!

Then there is Tony recruiting Spider-Man to Team Iron. When Spidey at last realizes he was used as an “ace in the hole” by Tony Stark for Civil War, there are going to be Whigs on the green. But for now, the important part is his new suit.

Uh-huh, I just said the important part of that scene was Peter Parker being given a new suit by Tony Stark. During the “mainstream” comic book civil war event, Spidey was convinced to join the pro-Registration side of the argument by Iron Man. He revealed his identity to the world, and Tony gave him an electromechanical suit which could sprout three extra legs and shoot repulsors from the hands, among other useful tricks.

In the film, this idea is presented in a slightly different manner. Parker cobbled his original suit out of old fabric in the movie, adding a set of secondhand goggles so he could better process information. The whole effect was far from intimidating. It was not even very appealing.

Tony states he needs an upgrade, which we get to see at the German airport. This suit, while it resembles the original outfit for Spider-Man in the comics, definitely has some Stark flair added to it. The fabric is high grade, almost like a suit of nanite skin, and there are camera lenses in his mask, enabling Parker to focus in on an object, person, or some such. (The lenses can also widen to show his shock when Ant-Man becomes Giant Man!) His webshooters are also more tricked-out than they were previously.

Although the results are different, the gift is essentially the same. Tony thought Spidey’s old suit in the comics needed a little more Iron in order to better protect him. In the movie, however, Parker really was in dire need of a new, better suit. Tony messed up a lot of things in Civil War, but we have to admit he did a very good thing for Spider-Man here!

Finally, there is King T’Challa. Many will already have put this together, but here it is again. In the “mainstream” comics, the mantle of Black Panther is passed down from one warrior in the royal family to another. King T’Chaka is not mentioned as ever having been a warrior or the previous wearer of the Black Panther mantle. More’s the pity.

Anyway, in the comics, T’Challa took the responsibility of being the Black Panther after his father was defeated and killed by one Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa, a child of maybe thirteen at the time, managed to scare Klaw off – destroying his right arm in the process – after the mercenary had betrayed and killed his father. T’Challa’s uncle ruled Wakanda as regent until the prince was old enough to undergo the trials he needed to pass to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. Once that was done, T’Challa suited up, kicked Klaw’s backside, threw him in prison, and became king of Wakanda. Following on that success, he joined the Avengers.

This is similar to the story we see in the film. T’Challa only dons the suit of the Black Panther after his father’s death, so that he may avenge him. In the film, Bucky is the one who takes the rap for killing King T’Chaka, which brings T’Challa into the fight on the side of Team Iron.

A last interesting note is that, in the “mainstream” comics, Panther at first declared neutrality in the comic book civil war event. But he and his wife, Ororo Munroe/Storm, eventually sided with Cap when it became clear Tony had completely gone off the deep end and was going to run everything into the ground, probably killing someone along the way. Unfortunately, the Marvel writers still managed to have him do that. Sorry, Panther.

Well, readers, I have delivered on my promise to discuss the hint I mentioned about Wanda’s incarceration – and then some! So as of now, I will sign off and give you all a chance to have fun elsewhere.

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America: Civil War – Tony Stark/Iron Man

Iron Man

I once said that Tony Stark/Iron Man was one of the most beaten and maltreated comic book characters of the current era. It does not appear to be a wrong assessment. Captain America: Civil War showed just how far the mighty had fallen, though the comics blazed the trail long ago.

Once, Tony Stark was a self-contained, reasonable, calm character. Even when he was angry, he did not fly off the handle for more than five minutes – at most. Debonair, dashing, and as chivalrous as any knight of the Round Table, you could not catch Tony Stark or Iron Man being rude just for the sake of doing it. In fact, even when someone deserved an impolite comment, he did not deliver it. He possessed a sense of humor, certainly; the difference is that it was not nasty and/or derogatory.

But that was another era, a period when the people of United States were at least trying to maintain a just society. Once, it was understood here that using foul language in public was serious business. Now, it is the current parlance. Once, it was understood that all women were to be treated as though they were worth a million dollars. Now, they are sized up like mares at a stock fair.

Tell me again how much we have improved.

All these gadgets, computers, cures, and medical techniques are mostly useful. But does that mean we have to treat each other like trash and call it affection?

It is no such thing. But the new Tony, the modern Tony, the oh-so-up-to-date Stark, would not believe that if you showed him a thousand statistics to prove the truth of it. He would go right on as he has always done.

The thing is… he was getting there. He was improving. Then, after the Battle of New York and the Battle of Sokovia, he got scared out of years of growth. He was reduced once again to a narcissistic, petulant child. How do I know this?

He kicked Bucky Barnes when the other was already down.

You do not do that. Not even to your worst enemies, not even to the people who are the slime of the Earth, or the trash in the gutter. You never, EVER kick a man when he is down, unless he is on his way up to kill you. Bucky was not doing that.

But Tony kicked him anyway.

How the mighty have fallen. How the invincible have become so weak. Bucky had just lost his robotic arm and was down for the count. There was no reason – none whatsoever – for what Tony did. Other than that he wanted to do it. Other than the fact that he wanted to treat an abused man living with a guilt greater than he could ever bear like slime. The only reason to beat a fallen man is to feel superior to him – when, in fact, it is the other way around.

From Iron Man to Marvel’s The Avengers, Tony Stark was a changed man. His sense of humor was still nasty and derogatory, he still had issues with authority, and he still had no filter between that “big brain” and his mouth. But he was not the selfish playboy we saw at the beginning of Iron Man.

Then, in Iron Man 3, he slid back again. Oh, he did not go back to his philandering ways. Pepper had no need to “[take] out the trash” anymore. He was hardly drunk, and he did a bang up job rescuing his girlfriend. Literally, there were, like, a lot of bangs when he fought to get her back. (Yes, I am using Tony’s phraseology to make a point.)

And then he threw it all out the window in Age of Ultron. He abandoned his responsibilities because he was afraid he could not handle them anymore. And instead of being sensible about it, instead of telling his friends and seeking their collective guidance, he tried to put a Band-Aid over his fears.

The result was a digital revolutionary bent on “global extinction.” People died because of Ultron, who was Tony’s mistake. The PR war on him, which for the most part had changed to adulation over the last few years, returned in full force. Grieving people blamed him for the deaths of their loved ones, and he was seen as a monster again. Maybe, if Pepper had not gotten mad at him, he would have kept his footing better.

But he did not stop jetting off in the Iron Man armor to save the world, and so she did get mad at him. (*Author pinches the bridge of nose and sighs deeply.*) You know, Gwyneth Paltrow and Natalie Portman both lack the sense God gave to dead plants. They landed parts in a veritable gravy train, and then they decided they only wanted to ride it halfway. The others are all either signed up for several movies or are extending their contracts so they will have billions by the time they absolutely have to hang up their superhero costumes. But these ladies do not want to stick around because the films are based on comic books, and they are for kids, so how can they be art?

Did no one ever tell these women you do not, under ANY circumstances, look a gift horse in the mouth? They had the easiest gigs on the planet, which paid some of the biggest bucks in the world – and they threw it away. Not even Robert Downey Jr., who says he is getting on in years and may soon hang up his armor, has done that.

The fact is, by the time we see Tony in Civil War, he is on tenterhooks. He is carrying guilt over the fact that Ultron was his bright idea, which got 177 civilians killed, plus one Avenger. Every time he gets into a fight innocent people die, and their relations or activists of one stripe or another all want to hang him for it. They wait for him in hallways, throw pictures and stories at him, and how can he protest that he did not want their relatives to die? What he wants and what he has are two very different things.

There is a true life parallel to this. If there is a battle which involves U.S. troops and there are civilian casualties, the U.S. soldiers are almost always the ones who receive the blame. It does not matter that the guys who were shooting at them held women or children in front of their bodies as human shields; it does not matter that the enemy holed up in a hospital run by international doctors who voluntarily went into a war zone. The only thing that matters is the U.S. soldiers were there, and civilians died.

Wars are hell. People die in wars – soldiers, civilians, men, women, and children. If bullets, bombs, close combat, shells, or knives do not get them, then disease or starvation will; or bad water, or accidents. But will those within and without America who hate the U.S. ever face the fact that wars have always been like this? That it is “well war is so terrible, else we would grow too fond of it”?

No. It does not matter to the academic/journalistic crowd in the slightest because it is not part of their agenda. They hate the U.S. military, all branches of it, and they want it utterly destroyed. The truth and The Truth have no hold on them whatsoever because they have forsaken both for their insular and personal agendas. (Now you know why Cap would not sign the Accords.)

Throughout history, people living or working in war zones have risked death. In the West, nations have done their utmost, in recent years, to limit civilian casualties. Then America clashed with the Soviet Union’s proxies in Vietnam, and found that their new enemies had no such scruples. Viet Cong soldiers routinely used nearby civilians as human shields, suicide bombers, or they threw them into other monstrous war services which Americans found horrific and barbaric. But the Viet Cong, the real culprits, were never to be held liable for what they did. Instead it was the American soldiers trying to fight them, forced to shoot through innocent people by an immoral enemy, who were held responsible.

That is going on again in Iraq and Afghanistan, as merciless enemies with no regard for life use women and children to do their killing work. Or they abuse them in other ways. But once again it is the big, bad Americans who are the enemy. It is their fault all this is happening; they should never have gotten involved. Not even to save the lives of those the enemy is using as expendable tools.

In Civil War, this is what Tony is dealing with. He is dealing with the hatred of people who have either been taught to accuse him and the Avengers for their losses, or who simply want to blame someone other than the real culprits for the death of their loved ones.

Neither attitude is right. Both are lies fabricated for various reasons. The one that will be trotted out is that grieving people always want someone to blame for the death of a loved one. That is true, but only up to a point. Once rational thinking takes over, grieving people realize they are holding grudges against a person or persons who were not responsible for their loss. Wanda and Pietro learned this in Age of Ultron when they fought alongside the Avengers; Tony did not kill their parents. The person who stole and fired his missiles into their apartment did.

It is a lesson Tony forgot. Or, perhaps, he never really learned.

Yes, Tony built Ultron. But Ultron chose to do what he did. Last time I checked, Tony was two for three; JARVIS and FRIDAY both turned out to be competent and sane AIs. This means that Tony’s responsibility for Ultron’s actions only goes as far as his creation. After that, the lives lost are on Ultron’s head.

And Tony certainly had nothing to do with Loki’s invasion of New York. But do you want to bet he has been held responsible for those killed in that battle, too?

As Cap said, saving as many people as one can does not mean that everybody gets saved. This is what the talking heads will not accept. They will not accept that sometimes you do all that you can, all that is humanly possible to do, and still innocents die. Some give their all to the fight, as Quicksilver did, but that does not mean no one else dies. It does not mean there are no more injuries, that there is no more pain. “Life is pain, Highness,” Westly said in The Princess Bride, “Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

Yes, they are. They are selling a recipe for control, for power.

Few people these days are willing to recognize that. Some simply do not know enough to recognize it.   The heroes do the best they can, and sometimes, their best is not enough to protect everyone. Yet these people still have to blame someone else for what the real bad guy(s) did. It has to be the rescuer’s fault; it has to be the soldier’s fault. It can never be the actual culprit who is responsible.

Yikes!!

The thing is that Tony is just as infected by this philosophy as most other people are today. He blames Bucky and Bucky alone for the deaths of his parents. Under the grip of strong emotion, anyone could succumb to that temptation. If that was the only reason for Tony flying off the handle at the end of Civil War, it would be more forgivable.

But it was not. Tony never stopped thinking during that fight. I believe it is literally impossible for him to stop thinking, and in most circumstances, that is not a bad thing.

In this case, however, it was.

Bucky was a man abused until he could be programmed and controlled. The kernel of his soul which he could still call his own was banked and hidden; else the cold wind of the Russian arm of HYDRA would blow it out. He fought a war for the survival of his soul for seventy-five years. It was a war which consumed all his time; he could not fight to stop HYDRA’s programming or commands. He was one against an underground army. Those are lousy odds, physically speaking. Spiritually speaking, Bucky fought and managed to remain in control of at least part of his soul.

But it was a war which took all his time – allowing HYDRA to kill hundreds by using his hands.

As a side note, in the comics, it was hinted that Bucky did not like killing women. Just before Cap found out he was alive in the books, Bucky took Sharon Carter captive and agreed – hesitantly – when his handler told him to kill her if he had to. He did not kill her, thankfully, but he would have if she had been a danger to his mission.

This is HYDRA’s legacy. They forced Bucky to do their killing for them. A man who robs a bank commits a crime. A man who robs a bank because some coward is holding a gun to his wife’s head a mile away commits a crime on behalf of someone else. And that is worse than if the man with the gun had gone in and robbed the bank himself; he has forced another man to do what he is too afraid to do. There is no audacity in stealing from a bank, but there is even less valor when a man threatens someone else’s life unless a different man commits the crime.

Bucky was not threatened with death. He was mentally and emotionally torn apart, turned into a cold, calculating hunting dog which would obey orders – whether he liked them or not.

Tony would not admit that. I do not know why. It is understandable for him to lose himself to fury for at least half of the fight. But by a certain point he could have ended it. He could have shut down the suit and agreed to the fact that the real killer of his parents was HYDRA. He did not.

Why?

Because someone had to pay? Because Bucky did the deed? So did Natasha. The one Avenger who knows precisely what Bucky is going through, Natasha was subjected to the same programming that Bucky was. And she had it beaten into her from childhood. She had even less defense against it than Bucky did.

And what about Clint? Loki invaded his mind, turned him into an automaton, and had him kill several dozen people over the course of three days. Some of those people were fellow SHIELD agents. It is conceivable a few of them were his friends. Loki did to Hawkeye in minutes what it took HYDRA and the Red Room years to do to Bucky and Natasha.

Yes, in Tony’s case, the deaths were far more personal. And that explains his leaping anger and initial assaults. But that was no reason to continue the fight.

It was no reason to kick Barnes when he was down.

Just like Clint, the faces of those he killed while on HYDRA’s chain will always haunt him. Like Natasha, he will be doing penance for committing other people’s crimes for the rest of his life.

Yet somehow this is not good enough for Tony?

It was personal and understandable – until Tony kicked a downed man. That was not the action of a man infuriated beyond reason. That was the act of a man determined to kill.

This is why Cap attacked and would not let up on Tony. This is why he tells his friend, “I can do this all day.” He does not want to do it all day. But he will if that is the only way he can save Bucky’s life and Tony’s soul. Because of all the things Tony has flushed down the toilet, the most valuable thing he almost threw away was his soul at the end of Civil War.

Cap stopped him. He stood between Tony and the abyss, then he carried his friend back from it. He jumped into the breach, not for thanks or for a reward. He did it because Tony is his friend, a friend so determined to blame the man HYDRA made into a weapon that he was unwilling to show him the same mercy and understanding he had previously shown two others with similar histories.

Tony repaid Cap’s selfless act with bitterness and bile, babyishly claiming he did not deserve the shield which Howard Stark had made for him. So Cap left it behind, because it was not worth his friend’s soul to keep it. Tony stopped growing up in Iron Man 3, but it was in Civil War where he made his greatest regression. He humiliated himself by acting like a spoiled, angry child, averse to admit that he was wrong, and Cap was right.

He played right into Zemo’s hands, all the way around. Tony played right into Ross’ hands as well. Ross knew Tony was unprepared for the ire of brainwashed, self-absorbed, grieving people bent on blaming a hero for a criminal’s work. He banked on the belief that Tony would be willing to roll over to registration to make the pain “go away.” Zemo bet Tony would take out his vengeance on Bucky, infuriating Cap and making the super soldier determined to get revenge for his childhood friend’s injury or death.

What Zemo never could understand, however, was Captain America himself. “How nice to find a flaw,” he said when he noticed that there was green in Steve’s blue eyes. (*Author scoffs.*) As if Steve thought of himself as an angel! Cap has never thought of himself as anything but a simple kid from Brooklyn. He never said he was perfect. Others say it about him, but he knows he is not. He is a man. And men in this world are not perfect – though some of them may come awfully close.

Cap battered and fought Tony not out of anger but in an attempt to knock some sense into his friend. He had no intention whatsoever of killing the son of Howard Stark. He had every intention of protecting him from himself. So when the beatings on Tony’s helmet did not work, Cap pulled the plug on his suit. His goal was to make sure his friend did not become a murderer. He had already lost Bucky to HYDRA. He was not going to lose Tony to them, or to that demon others named Helmut Zemo.

By the end of the film, when Stan Lee arrives with a package for ‘Tony Stank,’ he seems to be working that out. Tony may lack the vocabulary to express what he is thinking about, but he is thinking. Otherwise, he would not have put Ross on hold. He would also have torn up the letter after reading it and trashed the phone.

Where Cap’s shield is, we do not know as of Civil War’s end. But without Steve Rogers to wield it, the shield is just a shiny discus hanging on a wall or lying in a box. One of these days, Tony will look at it and realize that. If he thinks deeply enough (a rare feat for him in the films), he may just figure out how close he came to throwing away his immortal soul.

And when he remembers that, when he discovers what exactly he did wrong, he will realize that there was someone “standing in the gap” for him. Not to hurt him, and certainly not to kill him. To save him, Steve fought the hardest, most grueling, worst battle of his life. He threw his soul into the rift to protect Tony’s. And he held, even when his friend churlishly berated and belittled him for it.

Everyone misreads the kid from Brooklyn. Even the stupendously brilliant Tony Stark does not ‘get’ him. Not yet, at any rate. Maybe, just maybe, he will learn what type of friend he has in Steve Rogers.

Only time – and more movies – will tell us that, though.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

More Marvel Fan Fiction: An Avengers’ Easter

Happy Easter, readers!!!  As you may recall, last year I put up a small fan fiction story set in the time before Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It was a Christmas story (or very nearly), and it was set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  When asked if I would do anymore, I said I would think about it.

Well, after thinking about it, this fan fiction piece is the result.  This story takes place on Easter Sunday and is the lead-in to Captain America: Civil War.  As a result, characters who were present in Age of Ultron  are mentioned or present herein.  This story may not fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe; however, I wanted to tell a story set before Captain America: Civil War, and I wanted it to be on Easter Sunday.  

Unfortunately, I had no time to work Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier into this story.  There may be more fan fiction stories in the future, or not.  We will wait and see what happens.

I hope you enjoy the story, readers.  And, most importantly – HAPPY EASTER!!!!

The Mithril Guardian

An Avengers’ Easter

by The Mithril Guardian

Disclaimer: I do not own these characters.

Steve Rogers tried to keep a straight face as Lila Barton crept through the bushes near the Barton house. She was barely a foot away from a brightly colored egg that the Easter Bunny had hidden. Since he was not part of the hunt, Steve could not tip his hand and let her know how close she was.

Fortunately, Lila had an Easter egg-hunting partner. With a discrete flick of her fingers, Wanda Maximoff used her powers to send the egg rolling forward a little. It made a slight noise as it hit a fallen branch, catching Lila’s attention. Her hand shot out and grasped the egg. She stood up, holding her prize high so Wanda and the others could see it. “That’s thirteen!” she shouted excitedly.

“The boys only have ten!” Wanda laughed.

A few feet away, Sam Wilson and Cooper Barton shared a look. “We’d better pick up the pace, Hawk-kid,” Steve’s friend said.

“We haven’t checked the barn yet!” Cooper dashed off. “The clue in our egg – it sounded like the next one was hidden in the tractor!”

Sam followed the boy as Wanda and Lila put their heads together over their egg. It was plastic and contained a clue, either a hand-drawn picture or a riddle of some kind. Lila and Cooper were supposed to interpret the clue and use it to find the next egg. Whichever Barton sibling found their basket of Easter goodies first won the game.

Steve saw the little girl’s hands shaking with excitement as she puzzled over the note, a hand-drawn picture. Wanda had to turn the paper right side up. Once she did, Clint’s daughter shrieked wordlessly, then whispered, “It’s the squeaky fencepost! Come on!”

The two raced off, Wanda doing her best not to outrun the little girl. Steve allowed the smile he had been hiding to finally spread across his face.

It was good to see Wanda enjoying herself, he reflected. He and Natasha did their best to make sure she was included as much as possible in the new team’s pastimes. For the most part, it seemed to work. Wanda was fairly happy, all things considered. But every once in a while Steve, Natasha, or one of the others found Wanda alone, staring at nothing. When it did not seem like a bad time, they broke in on these moments of reverie and brought her to join the others. It really was not good for her to be on her own so much. If Pietro had survived the battle in Novi Grad, she would not have been alone.

Except he had died in that conflict protecting Cooper and Lila’s father: Clint Barton. Wanda had been alone ever since.

Steve knew no amount of friendship with him or the other Avengers, past or present, would ever fill the void in Wanda’s heart where Pietro had once resided. Nothing they did would make her forget her brother.

And Steve did not want her to forget him. He only wanted to make sure she was all right.

Light steps coming up behind him on the porch made Steve cock his head. A moment later, Clint was standing next to him. “She cleans up nice,” he said.

“And she fights like a cornered mountain lion,” Steve added. With Wanda’s help, Lila had managed to find the other egg hidden near the bottom of a fence post. They were looking at the clue together.

It seemed the two were having trouble with this note. They turned the paper around four more times before another squeal from Lila alerted the men to the fact that the girl had figured out the clue.

Clint offered him a can of soda as the two girls headed for the tree next to the house. Steve took it and popped the tab as both girls began prowling around the tree, trying to spot the next egg. “I’m glad Natasha twisted my arm into inviting you guys over for Easter,” Clint murmured.

“Yeah. Twisting’s the word for it.” Steve took a sip. He had not been aware of the matter for the first few weeks of the argument, but Natasha had almost physically dragged him into the debate which had raged for three weeks afterward. Clint had balked at the idea of inviting any of the New Avengers to his house for Easter, mostly because he was not sure how many of the “newbies” on the team he could truly trust.

He had finally caved when Vision and James “Rhodey” Rhodes had decided to decline the anonymous invitation to the equally anonymous Easter party. HYDRA was getting more and more active, and they did not want to leave their posts on Easter Sunday for fear of what HYDRA would do in their absence.

Truth be told, Steve had not wanted to leave, either. The only reason he had come to Clint’s party was because Natasha had volunteered to stay at the base with the rest of the team in his place. She had all but shoved Steve out the door early this morning with some teasing comments, making sure that he, Sam, and Wanda would all attend the party together.

Steve was brought out of his thoughts by the other man’s chuckle. “Force of habit, Cap.” He watched out of the corner of his eye as Clint took a swig of his own soda. “We almost never have anyone over casually, let alone for the holidays.”

“Sounds a little lonely.”

“Not as much as you might think. We’re company enough, most of the time. The only one we ever missed was Nat.”

“Sorry about…,” Steve began but Clint waved him off good-naturedly. “Don’t. We all know how busy you’ve been lately. I may live on a farm, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep up with the news.”

They watched as Wanda suddenly beckoned Lila to her. The child ran to her at once. Wanda pointed up into the tree and Lila’s face fell. Both girls were wearing dresses, and neither of them could climb the tree to retrieve the egg in such attire. Not without getting into trouble, anyway.

Wanda leaned down and whispered something in the little girl’s ear which made Lila turn and look at her, eyes wide. Steve and Clint were too far away to hear her quiet, tremulous question, but Wanda’s reassuring smile told them she was sure of what she planned.

A little time was taken up with Wanda positioning Clint’s daughter beneath the tree. Then, using her telekinetic and energy manipulation abilities, Wanda carefully lifted Lila up to the branch where the egg was hidden. Once she was in position, Lila reached out cautiously and grabbed the egg. Then she held it up over her head for Wanda to see.

With a smile, the older girl gently brought Lila to earth again. As soon as she landed, the little girl leaned forward and hugged Wanda. Whether she did so out of relief or gratitude it was hard to tell, but Steve suspected the gesture was a mixture of the two emotions.

Wanda twitched, startled by the hug. Then she smiled and returned the embrace.

The two stayed that way for a moment. When Wanda leaned back, Lila looked down at the egg in her hand, as if she had only just remembered it. She opened the egg so fast that Wanda had to use her powers to catch the two halves of the plastic egg before they hit the ground. Lila unfolded the paper, her fingers trembling with anticipation.

As they tried to solve the clue, there was the sound of a door being thrown open. Steve turned to see Cooper come tearing out of the barn, Sam following him closely. It took a moment for him to realize they were heading toward the empty pasture on that side of the farm.

Clint had turned to watch them, too. Then a sudden shout from Lila made both men swing in the opposite direction. They were just in time to see the child take off toward the rear of the house, Wanda following her. Clint smiled.

“How’s the party going so far?” Steve asked, grinning himself.

“Honestly, I think I may have to start inviting you guys over every weekend for supper,” the other laughed. “Lila’s taken to Wanda like the big sister she never had, and every time I turn around, Cooper’s pestering you or Sam with a thousand questions.”

“Then you may want to avoid having us over every week,” Steve teased. He watched as Cooper came up with another egg. The boy was so excited he could not open it. Sam had to do it for him. “You’ve got a real good place here, Clint,” he added. He sighed inwardly. He had wanted something like this so badly….

But that was another life, he reminded himself sternly. He could not be a father now. Peggy had lived her life. He had to live the life he had left while he still could. Pining for the past would not change anything.

And deep down, Steve suspected that he had survived that crash seventy years ago for a reason. So far he had had several reasons shown to him: Loki’s attempted invasion, HYDRA hiding within SHIELD, Ultron’s birth and subsequent attempt to destroy the world. How much of a difference he had made in some of these events he was not sure. But the fact was that HYDRA might be running the U.S. now if he had not been alive to draw their ire. Again.

There were more reasons to suggest why he had survived, he suspected. What they were, though, he had no idea.

“Yeah. I guess I do.”

Something in Clint’s tone brought Steve out of his reverie and made him look at the younger man sharply. Clint was watching his son and Sam run to the next hidden egg, a shadow in his eyes. “Something wrong?” Steve asked.

“You been paying attention to the news lately?” the other countered, his eyes never leaving the open field.

Steve racked his brain, trying to recall the snippets of news he had heard lately. Nothing popped out at him, so he asked, “What news specifically?”

“This.” Clint turned away from the railing and walked toward the door to the house. Set next to the door were two chairs and a table. They had been put out on the porch expressly for the party. Steve followed him and watched as Clint picked up a red folder from the nearer of the two chairs. He had not seen the file there before. Laura, Clint’s wife, must have put it out when his back was turned. Or Clint had left it there before joining him at the railing.

Opening the file, Clint handed it to Steve. Setting his drink on the table, Steve took the file and began flipping through the papers in it. Most of them looked like they had been printed off of different news websites. They were all about the current Secretary of State, a man named Ross.

Ross… The name rang a bell, but it took Steve a minute to remember where he had seen it before: four years ago in Coulson’s file on Banner and the Hulk. “Ross is the new Secretary of State?” he asked, looking at Clint.

“I didn’t think you were that out of the loop,” Clint replied, frowning. “But you might have been on a mission when he was sworn in.”

“When was that?”

“Late last year. Just before New Year’s Day, actually.”

“We had to take down a massive HYDRA facility around that time,” Steve said, memory taking him back. “Sam took a serious hit in that battle. We were worried for a while that he would lose his spleen.”

Clint nodded. “Yeah. Not much time to look at the news with that hanging over your head.”

Steve looked back at the file and began scanning through the different pages, flipping them over as he went. He frowned at what he read. “He’s pressing for us to get registered? I thought we had settled that.”

“That was the pre-HYDRA uprising gang who agreed to let us alone,” Clint said sourly. “And they only did that because Fury wouldn’t give them the intel he had on us. He said he couldn’t find it.” Steve snorted. “Yeah, they knew he was lying. But they still couldn’t get anything out of him. Fury is good at that kind of stuff.”

“I’m beginning to regret letting him go after those HYDRA leads with his own strike team.” Truthfully, Fury had basically said he was going after some HYDRA leads, taking a special strike team of his own with him. Steve had not given him permission, and Fury had not asked for it. Still, this was a time when Fury’s political expertise would have been very valuable. “It doesn’t sound like he’s making much headway with this registration argument,” Steve added as he studied one of the papers more closely.

“Not at the moment, no,” Clint agreed. “But – how much do you know about this guy?”

“He was tracking Bruce for a while after he became the Hulk,” Steve said, recalling the file Coulson had shown him.

The other made a derisive noise. Steve looked up in time to see him cross his arms. “That’s the polite way of putting it. Bruce and the big guy were the white whale to Ross’ Captain Ahab.”

Instinctively, Steve slapped the folder shut. He had not known it was that bad. “Why?”

“The reason Ross went after Bruce was because the Gamma/super soldier project was under his direction. He rode Bruce hard to get it done yesterday, but Banner was too cautious for his liking. Ross is the reason Banner is the Hulk. Plus,” Clint added, “Banner and Betty Ross, the general’s daughter, were an item there for a while. It was a well known fact that ol’ Thunderbolt didn’t approve of his daughter’s affection for Bruce.”

Steve grimaced. That explained why Bruce had disliked being brought to the Helicarrier to help deal with Loki, as well as his distrust of government organizations and militaries in general. Not to mention his reluctance to go steady with Natasha. He had already run from one girlfriend; running from a second was an idea he probably did not relish. “Thunderbolt?” he asked.

“Ross’ nickname; they called him General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.” Abruptly, Clint turned his head. Steve followed his gaze and was in time to see Cooper and Sam heading back toward the house. They went to the woodpile and started scanning the chopped logs. Clint dropped his voice to a whisper so they would not be overheard. “The thing is, Steve, it won’t take much for Ross to get registration passed.”

When Steve frowned the younger man continued urgently, his voice still low. “Think about it. Maybe you didn’t see the news reports after New York –”

“I saw some of them,” Steve interjected quietly.

“They want us on leashes,” Clint continued fiercely, his voice hushed. “They have since New York. All it will take for them to win over the more reluctant politicians and the public is one mistake. One battle where things don’t go as planned, where too many innocent people get hurt – or killed. Then they will start knocking on our door ‘asking’ us to sign up and be their puppets. They thought they had us when the Hulk rampaged through Johannesburg. But with him off the radar, they lost their ammunition against the Avengers.” He looked back at Cooper and Sam as the other man, who had discovered their latest prize, tossed an egg to Clint’s son. The boy opened it at once. “Wonder if that’s one of the reasons he skipped out on us.”

Steve said nothing. As much as he disliked Clint’s assessment of the situation, the younger man was right about one thing. One day they might battle HYDRA or some other band of terrorists and be unable to prevent a lot of civilian casualties.

Theirs was not a clean-cut war. HYDRA chose the battle ground more often than Steve would have liked. Even with Wanda and Vision’s powers backing them up, the Avengers had trouble keeping their fights out of population centers. If HYDRA got off even one lucky shot, the Avengers would be called to account for it.

A thought struck him. “You keep including yourself in the team,” he said, looking at Clint. He did not raise his voice. “You figuring on coming out of retirement if this passes?”

“Never retired,” Clint answered in the same low tone, looking rather offended. “I’ve just been on leave.”

“You didn’t exactly make that clear when you left.”

“I didn’t want to get hauled off to attack a HYDRA compound once a week. I do have an infant son to help look after, you know.”

Steve smiled at him, and the younger man must have realized he was being teased, because he smiled back. “Not bad, old man.”

“This old man dropped you like a sack of potatoes more than once after you joined the Avengers, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

“Ooh, someone’s brushed up on his popular culture. Nice Star Wars reference, Han Solo.”

“So far, I think the originals are the best,” Steve confessed. Clint’s response was a genuine laugh, which sounded a little loud after their quiet conversation. Cooper and Sam glanced at him, and Steve saw the boy smile in response to his father’s amusement.

The two went back to their clue. With a shout, Cooper went tearing off toward the field opposite the house. At the same time, Wanda and Lila came running from behind the house. They were racing toward the barn.

Steve and Clint watched them for a minute before resuming their conversation. Clint’s expression had tightened again, more noticeably this time. “The thing is, even if I had retired, they would want a record of me,” he explained. “Where I could be found, what to use to press me back into the service again if I was needed – or if they just wanted me in the field.” He paused. “I can’t drop off the radar, Steve. Even if SHIELD still existed, they’d be after me like sharks after blood.”

Steve stifled a sigh. Clint was right, of course. He also realized why the younger man was so worried about registration. Whatever governing body was assigned to oversee the Avengers, according to Ross’ statements, would also be required to monitor them somehow. Ross had not suggested exactly how it would be done, but Steve suspected that whatever system was worked out, it would be a very invasive and controlling one. Ross’ statements were vague enough to allow any system to be put in place.

If Clint were to be registered, getting back home for even the weekend meant that the government would want to know exactly where he lived – which meant they would eventually find out where his family lived. And Clint had made it abundantly clear that he did not want his family to be public knowledge.

Steve could understand that. In their line of work, one could not help making enemies. And HYDRA was not above wounding or killing children, even those as young as Nathaniel Barton. If the existence of his family became public knowledge, Clint’s old enemies would have to work fast to beat HYDRA to the Barton farm. “Have you talked to Nat about this yet?” he asked.

Clint’s eyes shaded again, this time with pain. To Steve’s shock, the younger man broke eye contact with him and turned to stare at the porch.

Not once in all the time he had known Clint Barton had Steve ever seen him turn away from someone like that. And he had definitely never broken eye contact with Steve before. Not even when he had previously avoided questions about his personal life. “Are you two fighting?” he asked quietly.

“Not exactly,” Clint said at once. “But we haven’t been agreeing when this subject comes up,” he added reluctantly.

Steve swallowed. If Clint and Natasha were starting to come apart over this… they were almost as close as he and Bucky had been. Almost.

A vague feeling of foreboding settled in the pit of his stomach. This divergence of opinions did not bode well for the rest of them. If Clint and Natasha could become divided over registration, then so could the rest of the Avengers.

Clint had apparently come to the same conclusion, as evidenced by the distress Steve read in his redirected gaze. “Do you have any idea why she would favor this?” Steve moved the hand holding the file a little.

“Protection,” Clint said flatly. “She has a lot of red in her ledger, Cap. Bad, bad stuff.”

“She’s not like that anymore.”

“No,” Clint agreed. “But she hasn’t forgiven herself for it, either. And it’s the one thing Ross or anyone else in the government could use against her. Even with her record public knowledge…” He stopped and shook his head. “It’s the one place she’s vulnerable, Steve. More so than the rest of us. People will forgive you anything. I worked real hard not to turn into the monsters I was fighting. I’m not proud of everything I did, but I’m not as susceptible in that regard as Nat is. Hell, neither are Stark and Banner.”

Steve looked at the file again, trying to think past the rising anger and fear roiling in his mind. “How likely do you think it is that registration will get passed?”

“Too likely,” Clint answered immediately. “While you’re busy keeping the planet from turning into a nuclear waste dump or something like that, Ross makes the rounds on the Sunday morning news shows, and has a press conference after every battle you participate in. Every time he does this, he calls for our registration. Just because he doesn’t have much support now doesn’t mean he can’t get it.”

“If we’re careful, we might be able to avoid it, or at least stall him…”

“Cap,” something in the other man’s voice made Steve look at him again. The haunting pain had grown more obvious. “A man like Ross, dedicated to hating someone, will hate whoever helps him. He and his daughter still aren’t on speaking terms. They don’t even live in the same country anymore. He may not hate her, but he definitely isn’t happy with her.”

“Are you saying he hates us?”

“After New York, the public saw the good the Hulk could do.” Clint drew a deep breath and let it out as a heavy sigh. “Ross could still have gone after Bruce, except that Stark invited him to the Tower. Then the Avengers became a permanent club after SHIELD went down…”

“And Bruce became untouchable –”

“Because he was with us.” Clint nodded.

“And you think Ross hates us now, just because we’re friends of Bruce?”

“I’d bet that’s a big part of it. But I think he’s also going after us as a tactical strike. Take control of the Avengers –”

“And he can control who our members are.”

“Among other things, yeah.”

Happy, childish squeals rang out. Clint bit his lower lip in response. “Steve, we are in for it. No doubt. If circumstances don’t give him the ammunition to take us down, Ross might manufacture the bullets himself.”

“How?”

“You remember Senator Stern?”

“The senator HYDRA had?”

“He wasn’t the only one. There were others, as well as politicians overseas who were found to be in HYDRA.”

“Fury said a lot of rats didn’t go down with the ship,” Steve replied, casting his mind back to that discussion. “You think Ross is HYDRA?”

Clint looked him in the eye, his face taking on the determined, deadly expression it usually had when they were in a fire fight. “I think he hates us enough to make a deal with the devil,” he replied.

Steve grimaced. HYDRA qualified as servants of the devil. If Clint’s theory was right, then Ross might be willing to do HYDRA’s political dirty work. Even if the former general was not a HYDRA stooge, as Clint suspected he was, Steve did not doubt the man would still seize any opportunity to register them that came his way. Clint’s judgment of character was too good for Steve to start doubting him now.

Glancing toward the children and their adult helpers, Steve saw that the kids had found their goody baskets somewhere near the barn and were picking through their prizes. He and Clint were going to be swamped in a few minutes. They had to wrap this up, fast.

Steve held the file out to Clint. “You should move,” he said. “Find a place to hide.”

Taking the file, the other man shook his head. “We’ll be finishing up moving in the next few days… but I can’t hide. If I cut and run, they’ll be after me. And they will find me if I stay with Laura and the kids, sooner or later. No matter what happens, I’ll be in the coming storm.” His expression tightened. “I need to know I’ve got someone who will watch my back when this hits the fan.” He motioned slightly with the file.

So that was what this was about. Steve had known this was more than just a warning to watch his back. Clint had already begun preparing against the potential for registration, moving his family to a new location without telling the rest of the Avengers. Considering that Clint had admitted they were arguing, it appeared that even Natasha did not know he was moving his family – unless she had deduced his next move, which was certainly possible. She knew him best, after all.

Barring that, though, the one Avenger who knew for certain was Steve. And that begged the question: where would he be when Ross got the support he needed to pass registration? Would Clint be able to count on him for help, or would he have to go it alone?

Steve made eye contact with the younger man again. “If this ‘hits the fan,’ I won’t be able to get in contact with you. You’ll have to find me.”

“Man in a star-spangled outfit, carrying a vibranium shield. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.” Clint smirked. But Steve also saw him relax a little. He had been nervous about this, then. Given his argument with Natasha, it was understandable. Steve wondered briefly if Natasha had volunteered to stay behind at Avengers HQ because of her ongoing argument with Clint. “Might be harder than you think, Hawkeye,” Steve wrinkled his nose at him pointedly.

The smirk became a genuine smile. Clint tapped the file with one finger. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone we were moving.”

“This conversation never happened.” Steve smiled. “I always wanted to say that to Fury’s face.”

“I know the feeling.” Clint ducked into the house. Steve picked up his drink, watching as Cooper and Lila packed up their baskets. Clint returned to the porch as they turned and ran toward the house. “Incoming,” Steve said, moving away from Clint to give the children room.

The two children thundered up the steps a few seconds later and mobbed their father at once, eager to show him what the Easter Bunny had left them. Mixed in with the chocolates and candy for Lila was a doll, while Cooper had received his very own “real-live” bow with his basket of Easter treats.

“I wish the Easter Bunny had left me one, too,” Lila said sadly.

“You’ll probably get yours next year,” Cooper said, trying to cheer her up. “Right, Dad?”

“Once she’s big enough to handle an actual bow, the Easter Bunny might bring her one. Now, remember, the candy has to last a few days. Not only do you two need room for dinner, I can’t keep up with you if you’re rocketing off the walls on a sugar rush.”

“Dad!” Cooper laughed. “You can always keep up with us!” Lila giggled.

“Not when you’re on a sugar rush, I can’t,” Clint teased, ruffling his son’s hair and leaning down to kiss his daughter on the forehead. “How about you go show mom what you got, huh?”

The two bolted into the house at once. When they were out of hearing range, Sam collapsed into one of the chairs with a sigh. “Man, and I thought you were hard to keep up with!” he said to Steve.

Steve shrugged and made a mock-serious face. “Well, Cooper’s much younger than I am. It stands to reason he’d be faster,” he said as seriously as he could.

Sam laughed. “How’s the spleen?” Clint asked, smiling and leaning against the door jamb.

“Oh, it’s fine. Nothing’s wrong with me except the usual.” Sam waved a hand airily.

“What’s that?” asked Wanda.

“Being mortal.”

“Hey, don’t go stealing my position on the team!” Clint growled in faux irritation.

“You kidding? You’ve been around since Medieval England. Bein’ a superhero’s easy for you, Robin Hood! For a guy like me, it’s harder than it looks!”

“Then settle for being a regular one!”

“Okay, kids, let’s not let this get out of hand,” Steve interjected playfully, sipping his soda. It had lost some of its fizz while he was talking to Clint, he noticed.

“What, I can’t have a conversation with this gentleman?” Clint asked innocently. Sam’s eyes, though, had locked onto Steve’s drink. “Where do you hide the sodas?” he asked. “I could use a drink.”

“I can go get one for you…” Clint began slyly.

Sam was out of his chair in an instant. “Forget it. If they’re not in the fridge, your wife will know where they are.”

“Third shelf, at the back.” Clint laughed, moving away from the door to let Sam in. As the other man disappeared inside, Wanda looked at Clint. “You have a very nice family, Mr. Barton,” she said timidly.

“Thanks. But we’re both Avengers, Wanda. It’s Clint.”

She smiled awkwardly and looked at the porch floor. “I…I wanted to say… ” She stopped and bit her lip. Sensing Wanda had something important on her mind but was nervous about mentioning it, Steve started to head for the door.

Her hand shot out and touched his arm lightly. “No, Captain. You can stay.” He stepped back, curious. What was Wanda up to?

Taking a deep breath, she looked at Clint. “Natasha told me before we left about what you did. That you named your second son after her, and after Pietro.”

It was the first time Steve could recall seeing Clint shocked and at a loss for words. He was glad of his own surprise; it meant he could not disturb Wanda as she went on with what she had to say. “Please, don’t be angry with her. She did not want you to have to tell me. She thought it would save you trouble if she told me instead.”

“I just –” Wanda paused again, swallowed, and then went on, clearly trying not to rush through her prepared speech. “I just wanted to thank you. For naming your son after my brother.”

For a minute, silence reigned. Steve held his breath as Clint stared at Wanda, who had dropped her gaze to the porch floor again. Then, very quietly, Clint said, “I never wanted your brother to die, Wanda. I never wanted to kill him. I thought about shooting him a couple of times, but… I never wanted his death.”

Wanda nodded. “I know.”

Clint sighed. “I am sorry – ”

Without warning, Wanda lunged forward and hugged him. Hard. Clint returned her embrace full force. “It is not your fault,” she murmured thickly. “I miss Pietro every day, sometimes so much that I feel as though I am being torn apart from the inside. But I am proud that he died to save another, and I am doubly proud now that I see he saved a man who honors and respects him, and who has preserved some memory of him… That he died to save a man who has a family.”

“I would not wish our childhood on anyone, Hawkeye, and I do not wish it for your children. Not now, not in the future. Never.”

They said nothing for a long time.

Steve remained frozen, reluctant to destroy the little scene. Whether or not this meant that Wanda would assimilate to their new team better, this was progress for her.

He also took the opportunity to sound out Nathaniel’s full name in his mind. Clint had never mentioned it. No wonder Natasha had broken the news to Wanda. Clint would not have told her, for the simple reason that he was not the type to parade such things about.

But the fact remained that Wanda deserved to know. And Natasha had saved Clint the responsibility of telling her. The two might be arguing, but so far it had not damaged their friendship seriously.

At that moment, Steve saw Laura glance through the doorway from down the hall. She took in the scene, then met Steve’s gaze briefly. With a quick nod, Laura turned and disappeared from view inside the house. No one inside would disturb them for a while yet, Steve suspected.

He was glad that Laura understood Wanda needed to deal with her grief. Maybe Clint needed to deal with it, too. Pietro had died saving him, after all. Perhaps that was why she was willing to let them be. Whatever her reasons, Laura knew they were connected by Pietro Maximoff’s death and needed some time to themselves.

Apparently, though, Wanda did not feel Steve needed to be excluded from the following discussion. He remained quiet unless asked a question as Clint and Wanda began to converse, sitting down in the chairs set out specifically for the party. Once or twice he added a mild comment. Mostly, he just stood by and listened, trying to figure out why Wanda did not want him dismissed from the proceedings.

With her hypnotic abilities, Wanda might want him present as a witness, able to tell the others – or even Clint – that she had not invaded the other man’s mind during this period of conversation.

That theory was weak, however. Wanda could hypnotize an entire block of civilians. She had done it in Novi Grad, Sokovia. And she had brought every Avenger but Clint to their knees before that. She would have no trouble manipulating both him and Steve if she wanted to do so.

It was when she asked for the specifics of Pietro’s death that Steve understood why she wanted him to stay. He and Clint were the only remaining Avengers who knew the details. Thor had been there as well, but he had left not long before Steve and Natasha had begun training their new recruits. They were the only ones who could tell her what she wanted to know.

“I sensed him die. I know Ultron killed him. I…saw him afterward. But I don’t know… ”

“How it all came together,” Clint finished for her. Wanda nodded silently.

Clint paused, then explained that one of the women aboard the boat he had planned to ride to the Helicarrier had been calling for a boy. He gave the child’s name and Wanda looked up. “I know her. The child was her brother. Pietro – ” Her lips quirked in a small smile. “Pietro liked to flirt with her.”

Clint chuckled, then sobered as he went on with the story. “I saw him easily enough. I don’t know how he ended up where he was – he was stuck at the top of a basement stairwell. Maybe the thin air got to him. He was barely conscious when I picked him up.” Clint paused for a long moment. “That was when Ultron made his strafing run.”

Steve grimaced. He and Thor had both been caught off guard by the robot’s barrage and sent to the ground. Neither of them had been hurt, but they were also unable to get up and help anyone in a hurry. Even if they had, they were not fast enough to have reached Clint and the boy in time.

Pietro had been. “I was the one who brought him onboard,” Steve remembered.

Clint took a pull of his soda. “Yeah. I brought the boy to his sister, and found that one of Ultron’s bullets had nicked me. I woke up later in the infirmary. Don’t even remember the ride to the carrier.”

Wanda looked away from them. After a while she spoke again. Her voice was soft, shaking with leftover grief. And remaining rage. “When I felt Pietro die, I forgot about the key. I was…consumed with anger. I went and found Ultron’s main body. He had been thrown from a great height into a train car, I think. He was heavily damaged. I got close to him…” She took a deep breath. “And then I ripped out his power core.”

Steve stared at her in shock. Ultron’s main body had been plated with vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth. If Wanda could reach in and rip out his power core through that, then she had been more powerful than they had suspected. And her powers were still growing.

“I made sure it hurt,” she added fiercely. “It was after that that the city began to fall. I almost welcomed death, but Vision found me and brought me to the Helicarrier…” Her voice lost the rage. Grief swallowed it and she stopped speaking at once.

Steve knew why. Wanda had spent her time on the Helicarrier beside her brother’s body. She had been utterly inconsolable, great sobs tearing through her for several hours afterward. It had been a long time before any of them had felt comfortable approaching her.

Clint put his hand on her shoulder. Swallowing what was doubtless a fresh set of tears, Wanda looked at him. She smiled wanly. “Thank you, for telling me what happened.”

Clint’s only response was a nod.

Another woman’s throat cleared and the three of them turned toward the door. Laura Barton was standing there, her expression grave. “I’m really sorry to intrude, but the turkey’s about done, and I need another set of hands in the kitchen,” she explained.

“Be right there,” Clint promised, standing up. Laura nodded once and vanished inside the house to give them privacy. Clint looked at Wanda, who met his gaze squarely. “I can’t bring him back, but if you ever need someone to talk to, the way you talked to him… ask Nat for my number. Okay?”

Wanda nodded. Clint gave her a slight smile in return. Then he turned and went into the house.

Wanda sat back in the chair as Steve pushed away from the porch railing. “We’d better go in, too, and get ready for dinner – ”

“What were you speaking about?”

Steve stopped and looked at her. “During the egg hunt,” Wanda elaborated. “I didn’t hear what you said, but I sensed his fear.” She nodded into the house. “For his family. For the Avengers. You felt fear as well. I know.”

He had wondered about that. Sighing, Steve walked over and took the chair that Clint had vacated. He thought for a few minutes before replying. “It sounds like there are people in the government who want to register us. Registering for certain things is fine,” he added. He wanted Wanda to understand exactly what was wrong with this form of registration, and what made it different from registering for a driver’s license or some such thing. “But this registration might hobble us; make it hard for us to fight HYDRA and other terrorists.”

“Why?”

“Because if politicians decide when we fight, where we fight, and who we should or shouldn’t use our powers to fight, they will own us.”

“You mean they want to make us slaves.”

Steve nodded slowly. “Essentially. They are right to be afraid of our powers. We should be afraid of them, too.” He looked at her. “If we abuse our powers, we’re no better than HYDRA or any of the others we’ve been dealing with for the last few months. We have to be careful.”

“Yes. But –” She frowned, trying to think of how to voice her distaste for this form of registration. Wanda really was still a child, in so many ways, he reflected. “But we’re not tools, we’re people. They shouldn’t have control of us, not as slaves,” Steve supplied.

Wanda nodded, her expression easing with the explanation. Then she frowned. “But why does he fear for his family?”

Steve glanced at his soda can, noticing that it was almost empty. He would have to be careful as he explained this. “I know Strucker and some of the other HYDRA agents were…kind to you and Pietro, Wanda –”

“After a fashion.” The girl shrugged.

“Clint has been their enemy. He’s fought against them, and against others. He’s made enemies as Hawkeye and as an Avenger. Those enemies want to kill him – or worse, break him.” Steve looked at her. “Strucker might not have come after Clint’s family, Wanda, but would the rest of HYDRA leave them alone?”

She paled. “But they don’t know –”

“No,” Steve agreed calmly. “But if we’re all registered – if Clint is registered – and he is still an Avenger… Then they will want to know where he goes when he leaves for R&R every chance he gets. Sooner or later, they will find his family and make them part of the record.”

“And if they do that, HYDRA or one of Clint’s other enemies could find those records.”

He did not need to say anymore. Wanda understood. She swallowed. “We can’t let that happen,” she said. Steve was pleased to note that her voice did not tremble, though the amount of ice in it was somewhat worrisome. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to avoid this,” he said.

“What if they try to force us to register?”

Steve sighed. Wanda was quick to recognize why. “We’ll have to fight,” she said softly, answering her own question.

Steve nodded. “Somehow. Otherwise, if his family is to stay alive…”

“He’ll have to leave them,” she said quietly. “Go into exile, possibly for the rest of his life.”

Again, all Steve could do was nod. Clint’s rationale had led him to the same cold conclusion. Somehow, they were going to have to find a way to beat this registration scheme. Not only to protect their own freedom, but for the safety and sake of the Barton family as well. Maybe even for other families down the road.

Steve finished his drink. He looked back at the Maximoff girl, who was frowning in no little fear at the porch flooring. “These are just shadows, Wanda,” he said softly. “We’ll worry about them tomorrow. Okay? Right now is a time for celebrating.”

“What exactly are we celebrating?” Wanda asked, sounding agitated. She was obviously still thinking about the problem of registration. “I know the religious importance of this feast day, but with all this – this danger – ”

She did not know the religious significance of Easter as well as she thought she did if she was speaking about it like that. “The world was in danger two thousand years ago, too, Wanda,” he interrupted gently. “Easter – the Resurrection of the Son of God – reminds us not to give up hope. That somewhere, somehow, in some impossible way, all the bad in our lives will be ‘turned into joy.’ That’s why we’re celebrating. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Wanda searched his eyes and face. Whatever she saw, it made her relax. The color came back to her cheeks. “If you can hope for a better tomorrow, Captain, then so can I,” she said softly.

Steve smiled.

At that moment Lila, her voice clear and high, began to sing from somewhere in the house:


“Spent today in a conversation

In the mirror face to face with

somebody less than perfect…


I wouldn’t choose me first if

I was looking for a champion,

In fact I’d understand if

You picked everyone before me,

But that’s just not my story!

 

True to who You are

You saw my heart

and made

Something out of nothing – ”



Steve was not familiar with the song, but Lila’s parents knew it. Clint and Laura joined her after a few lines, while Cooper began playing the tune with whatever utensils or items he had to hand. They followed her until she reached the end of the song:


“He knows my name!

I’m not living for applause –

I’m already so adored!

It’s all His stage

He knows my name!

He knows my name!”

 

Standing up, he offered Wanda his hand. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “It’s Steve,” he said quietly, giving her his arm. “Happy Easter, Wanda.”

She did not respond immediately. Then… “Happy Easter…Steve,” she replied, her voice hushed,

They went into the house together. “HAPPY EASTER!” the two Barton children shouted when they saw them. Clint and Laura echoed them. Beside Steve, Wanda called out “Happy Easter!” Sam and Steve managed to repeat the shout a moment later. Sam had been drinking and not been able to speak. Steve had been enjoying the scene too much to shout at once.

They settled in the chairs assigned them as Laura and Clint began to set out dinner. Lila sat next to Wanda while Cooper squirmed into the seat between Steve’s chair and the chair where his father would sit. Nathaniel was in his high chair next to Laura’s seat, watching the activity with a baby’s interest.

Steve wondered briefly if, had he and Peggy married, their Easter dinners would have been as warm and happy. Another life, Steve, he reminded himself firmly. This life he had to live for the Avengers – Wanda, Sam, Clint, Natasha, and the others, those actively serving and those who had temporarily retired. It also included Laura, Cooper, Lila, and Nathaniel Barton, in a roundabout way. They needed him. They all needed him.

I won’t let them down, Steve promised silently.

THE END

Spotlight: Avengers – Iron Man/Tony Stark

Pepper and Tony

“I am Iron Man.”

Wow. Tony Stark has come a long way since he spoke those words in his first film. That movie revealed a lot about Iron Man to me. As I have said elsewhere, I once thought this super hero was a robot. Watching Marvel’s Iron Man a few years after it came out, I made the mistake of saying aloud, “Wait. Iron Man is a guy in a metal suit? I thought he was a robot!”

A friend of mine, who was present when I saw the film, confirmed – with great incredulity at my ignorance – that Iron Man had always been the rich, debonair Tony Stark. This compadre had mentioned that fact before, but I had never really been interested in Iron Man and the explanations had not truly stuck, as they should have. This friend watched the movie through with me and, at the end, said there was only one problem with it. What problem was that?

The problem was Tony’s playboy tendency to mock everything and everyone. Minute to minute, he was making fun of someone or something. Sometimes, it was a just and right criticism. Other times…not so much.

The Iron Man my friend grew up with is, in many ways, better than the Iron Man of today. Do not misunderstand – my friend and I both enjoy watching Robert Downey Jr. play Tony Stark. He is wonderful in the role and puts everything he has into it, and in the first Iron Man film, Tony Stark was – apparently – well on his way to becoming a great hero.

But the original Tony Stark of the 1960s was not a rich, “hip” debauchee who belittled and mocked the world and the people around him. Nor did he look at the world through the same dark, broody lenses Batman uses (though Bruce Wayne uses those lenses for understandable reasons), and he could be genuinely funny. But he did not behave like a fool just for the sake of it. The 1960s era Tony Stark was the epitome of the wealthy gentleman. He was charming, well-mannered, kind, generous, respectful, well-spoken – a modern day knight in hi-tech armor. And if that were not enough, he was also a technological genius.

Here it might be worthwhile to remind you all of the ancient axiom: that while money may indeed talk, wealth need only whisper. The Ersatz Stark is rich, but the Real Tony Stark is wealthy. The Ersatz Stark is “filthy rich” with an egotism and narcissism that demands commensurate notice. The Real Tony Stark is wealthy in so many ways that he needs neither fanfare nor self-congratulation.

Stan Lee has admitted that he based Tony Stark on American inventor Howard Hughes (something my friend deduced without any help). This is where the name of Tony Stark’s father – Howard – came from, and is something the FBI would call a clue. Like Howard Stark, Howard Hughes was contracted to work for the American military during World War II. He manufactured airplanes for them. He also made oil-well tools, and was an aerospace manufacturer (he built satellites). He was an accomplished pilot, and he often flew the planes he developed – as well as other planes – himself. Howard Hughes also made and acted in several movies (Hell’s Angels and Scarface, among others). He was a real American Hero who also happened to be a technological genius.

In the comics, Tony was a lot like Howard Hughes. The only difference between Howard Hughes and Tony Stark was that Tony focused on the development of weapons for the military more than on producing other technologies. This changed after a trip to Vietnam left him with a deadly heart injury. Though the story is modified for the first Iron Man film, it is mostly tailored to put it in today’s world. Dr. Ho Yinsen was the man who saved Tony in the comics as well as in the film, and Tony’s heart was injured in the comics when a weapon blew up near him, severely damaging his heart.

In the original comics, however, what kept Tony’s heart functioning was a magnetic chest plate that could be hidden beneath a business suit as well as his armor. The arc reactor is a creation of the films (Tony’s magnetic chest plate needed recharging every now and again, something the “self-sustaining” arc reactor does not require). Dr. Yinsen’s car battery-powered magnet is a nod to Tony’s original magnetic “pacemaker” device.

While Stan Lee held control of the helm of Marvel Comics, Tony did all right. And for some years after he left, the other Marvel writers respected Iron Man and left him largely unchanged – though they gave him a drinking problem to make a commentary on how getting drunk is bad for people. (This story arc was called “Demon in a Bottle.” How clever – and yes, I am rolling my eyes right now.) This policy of leaving Tony Stark’s personality intact was reversed in the late 1990s or early 2000s.

But for once, the reversal did not come directly through the “mainstream” comics. It came through the Ultimate Marvel Comics.

And the “mainstream” comics, as usual,were far too quick to capitulate to this character assassination from a separate universe.

This transformation introduced the world to the Tony Stark Robert Downey Jr. plays to perfection in the Avengers’ themed films. Instead of encapsulating the ideal of the wealthy gentleman, Tony Stark was made the representative of the hyped, hipster, spectator, wannabees, never-will-be types that are with us today.

It is a sad fact, but a good number of rich people today are no better than badly behaved children. When Marvel decided to “update” their characters in the Ultimate Marvel Comics, they determined that the Tony Stark we had known since the 1960s was staid, boring, and would no longer capture readers’ interest. After all, as the curator of the New York City Natural History Museum in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, told Larry Daley, “People want what’s next.” That is, they want the next attraction, party, fad, etc.

My friend is not one of those people. Neither am I.

That, however, has no bearing whatsoever on the writers/editors/managers at Marvel Comics. Therefore, in Marvel’s Ultimate comics, “mainstream” comics, and films, Tony became the typical rich brat raised with a silver spoon in his mouth who partied all night, was almost always drunk, and had twenty women all over him the minute he walked into a room.

The only thing he retained from his introduction in the 1960s was his genius intellect – which, if nothing else, has been increased.   According to Dr. Yinsen in the first Iron Man movie, Tony can give a coherent, fascinating speech on technology even when he is so thoroughly drunk it is a miracle he can stand up. Despite the effects of his drinking and partying, he still retains the capacity to speak about scientific facts without making a mistake.

However, this particular “good” alteration does not do Tony very many favors among the fans that prefer his previous depiction. His ability to fire off wonderful zingers notwithstanding, no one likes to see Tony Stark picking on Captain America – unless, of course, they are Cap-haters. No one likes to see him insulting Thor, telling Bruce off, or otherwise trying to cut down his teammates with words. That is, unless these particular people hate most of the other Avengers anyway.

The Tony Stark of the 1960s willingly deferred to Cap because of his experience and outstanding record on the battlefield. Likewise, Cap was quite agreeable to the idea of stepping back and letting Iron Man take care of anything that was scientifically out of his league. The two never jockeyed for command of the Avengers. They respected each other equally and were more than prepared to back each other up whenever they needed to do so. They were friends of the best and highest order, like Aragorn and Legolas in The Lord of the Rings.

As everyone (including me) who is expecting/dreading Captain America: Civil War knows, however, things did not stay this way between Cap and Tony. I am not sure, but it may be that Marvel is taking the same route as DC Comics. Originally – as far as I understand things – Batman and Superman were fairly good friends. They had their differences, their differing views shaped by different life experiences, but they agreed on the principles which were at the heart of their work as superheroes.

Some time ago – perhaps it was also in the ‘90s – this friendship between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne completely tanked. Batman and Superman have fought each other nearly to the death in several dozen stories over the last few years. This rivalry, if that is indeed what it is, is the focus of DC’s next big film: Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since they wrote the Civil War comic book story, Marvel has been playing up the same idea with Captain America and Tony Stark.

Does this mean that I think that Captain America: Civil War will be a terrible story? I will not know that until I see the film. It is entirely possible, as it is with any movie.

On the whole, though, I am looking forward to Captain America: Civil War. But one of the things in the movie that I am not looking forward to at all is the fighting between Tony Stark and Captain America. I am not looking forward to this anymore than anyone in the actual War Between the States enjoyed watching brothers on the Union and Confederate sides trying to kill each other. I do not enjoy this because Tony and Cap are, after a fashion, brothers.

They are not only brothers-in-arms (or brothers-in-Avenging) but they are brothers in that they each represent great aspects of the United States. Captain America represents the military prowess, patriotism, hope, and home and hearth values the United States was founded on and still stands on. For that reason, he will always be our best and most beloved super hero.

Iron Man/Tony Stark represents the collective ingenuity of the United States. Although the Marvel writers have long plagued him with the question, “Does the suit make the man, or does the man make the suit?” the fact is that this ‘question’ is stuff and nonsense. As I have said elsewhere, there would be no Iron Man suit without Tony Stark.

To return to the point, the original Tony Stark is the modern day knight. He comes from ‘old money’ (nobility), he works hard, and he is inventive. He does not need to go on knightly adventures and do knightly things. But he does these things because they are right and just.

Tony has enough money that he could comfortably sit at home and remote-fly his armor(s) across the battlefield. He does not need to fly into a fray with Kang the Conqueror, Galactus, Loki, Ronan the Accuser, or even low-budget villains like Batroc the Leaper. He could easily sit at home all day, making armors and fantastic machines, all the while whining about the fact that his heart has been damaged and he will never be “normal” again.

But Tony Stark has more Iron in him than that. He does not have to physically enter the battle but he still chooses to do so. He puts himself in harm’s way to protect people, to stand with his friends, to stand up for what is right and true and good. He may not stand as rock steadily as Cap, but let us remember that Tony’s suit can fly. Cap stays grounded so that he never loses focus. Tony, just like the American ingenuity he represents, is so nimble he can fly into space, fix a satellite, swing by a collapsing oil rig and rescue its workers, all before heading back to Avengers’ Tower to have breakfast.

Tony’s inventiveness is something he carries with him, the same way Hawkeye always has his skills, no matter if he has a bow or a gun on him or not. As Obadiah Stane pointed out in the first Iron Man movie, Tony built his first arc reactor in a cave, using nothing but scrap metal and the ramshackle machinery the Ten Rings terrorists had to hand. And they had not been kind to this machinery, either!

So no one can tell me with a straight face that the Iron Man suit made Tony Stark. If he can, in the dim, dank recesses of a cave, cobble together a suit of armor that would make Sir Lancelot Hulk-green with envy, then he is Iron Man – not the suit!

So why has Marvel pitted Tony Stark against his brother Avenger Steve Rogers? The surface reason – which is never more than skin-deep – is that civil wars always pit brother against brother.

Okay. Fine. If Marvel’s Civil War story arc was that simple, I might buy that explanation.

But it is not that simple. Civil wars start because of a divide within a country. In Marvel’s Civil War, however, the divide is something much deeper and of their own creation. Marvel’s “mainstream” writers did not simply turn Tony into a rich snob with a whiplash tongue and “No respect,” to quote Drax, after they followed in the Ultimate writers’ footsteps. They set him up as the fall-guy for the faux war between the “intellectuals” and those who believe in hope, patriotism, home and hearth. Then they went a step too far and had Cap, who believes in all those values, beat him. On top of that, they made Tony feel bad about Cap’s “death” (which was reversed, naturally, when Marvel learned they could not last more than three years without Steve Rogers as Captain America).

Now why did I call the ‘war’ between “the intellectuals” and the rest of us who cherish the principles of home and hearth a ‘faux war?’ I call it this because it is a manufactured war, a smoke screen designed to be used by a few proud snobs to ruin the link between the ideals of home and hearth and the nimble quick-thinking of the geniuses. Real intellectuals, real geniuses, are what the original Tony Stark once was; they are versatile knights with courtly manners who fight for truth and justice. Tony happens to wear a fancy suit of hi-tech armor when he goes out to do battle. The principles, of course, remain unchanged for those real people who are like Tony Stark.

I would, I think, enjoy Civil War and other recent story lines maiming Tony Stark more than I currently do if the writers had done one thing differently: Marvel should have made someone else their intellectual fall-guy and left Tony where he belonged, on the side of the Avengers, shoulder to shoulder with Captain America.

I will be watching Captain America: Civil War. And I do not doubt I will enjoy every minute of what Cap and his team say and do. But at the same time I will be mourning the decision of those who choose to follow Tony Stark in the film. Most of all, I think I will grieve greatly that the Invincible Iron Man – Tony Stark – has been laid low by the real people who “have no respect” for him.

No, Tony is not my favorite Marvel hero. But he was a hero, and dragging a hero into the mud is never a cause for celebration. It is, instead, a sign of a great lack of respect for what is good, true, and wonderful in this world – and in humanity.

Until next time.

The Mithril Guardian

Iron Man

Prognostications for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Part 4

Whew – was it just me, or did that last Age of Ultron trailer, which came out during the final college football game of the year, skate on the edge of being extremely depressing?

The trailer has very little to add to the speculation we impatient fans have been tossing around for, like, years. For the most part, it is a big exercise in frustration – although it does succeed in giving some of us an adrenaline rush!

I have to admit that this Age of Ultron trailer has largely left me speechless. I am not sure what I can say about it or the movie it hypes. But I have been thinking about it, and the film, a fair bit, and I do a have a few theories to put out there. So, once again, if you are a dedicated fan who wants to know what happens in Age of Ultron only when you see it in theaters (and, later, on DVD), then read no further. If you are one of those fans crawling up the walls trying to guess what is in the pipes for our favorite heroes, here are my theories for where things might go.

Speculation #1: The Avengers in this trailer all seem to be quite willing to tear each other apart. Or, at least, Thor, Tony, and Bruce are.   So far Cap, Widow, and Hawkeye are the only Avengers we have not seen mixing it up with their teammates. However, a glimpse of the middle of Age of Ultron previewed at an event sometime last year hints that Tony and Cap are not feeling too chummy with each other during Age of Ultron.

This trailer shows us old footage of Thor lifting Tony up by the throat, but adds the little tidbit that, before this happened, Thor was chastising Tony for meddling where no man should. While I cannot say that picking Tony up by the jugular was a good way to emphasize his point, the thing is that Thor nailed this one. If I were a member of the Avengers – even if I was only their janitor – and I heard that Tony was building or rebooting an AI to take over the Avengers’ job, I would have told him, “This is a very, VERY bad idea!” (Not that he would have listened to me, of course. Since when has anyone been able to tell the great Tony Stark what he should and should not do?)

The trailer, however, has A LOT of new footage of Tony and the Hulk bashing each other to pieces in the middle of a city. Some people – including me – think that the Scarlet Witch might be the cause of this battle. The reason I feel this way is because, near the end of the new sequence where Tony is battling the Hulk in his Hulkbuster suit, Big Green turns to the screen and we see that one of his eyes is swollen and kind of red. This indicates one of two things. One, Tony hit him in the eye really, really hard. Two, Wanda hexed the Hulk to go on a rampage.

Either theory could be true. But right now, we cannot say for sure. What might be said for sure is that Widow and Hawkeye appear to be the only Avengers who are not angry at a particular teammate. This may be a presumptuous conclusion, but so far they do not seem inclined to start a fight with anyone on their team as Thor, Tony, and Bruce Banner/Hulk do.

Speculation #2: Widow is most certainly getting more screen time in this trailer, and it seems she will be getting a fair amount of limelight in the upcoming film. The new trailer shows pictures of her walking into what must be a fight, carrying some very heavy artillery (for her, at least, it is heavy artillery), as well as a sequence that shows her getting thrust onto an operating table when she was younger. It would seem that we will definitely get to travel with her down memory lane for a glimpse of her dark history, a past that may be darker than even she recalls.

We also get a look at her evolving friendship with Bruce and the Hulk in this new trailer. It appears that, while she and Bruce may have started out on the wrong foot in Calcutta, they have smoothed things over by now. Judging by the fact that she is standing so close to Bruce when Ultron crashes the Avengers’ party, it looks to me like she might have become his unofficial battle partner/handler.

That does not mean they are romantically engaged. It is a possibility, of course, but something about that idea just does not add up for me. Bruce and Widow were never anything more than friends in the comics (as far as I know). Also, Betty Ross, Bruce’s first girlfriend, is still a part of the MCU to the best of my knowledge. I do not think it would be all that healthy if Bruce started to date Widow while his old girlfriend was still out there waiting for him. But I am not in charge of Marvel Studios, so what do I know?

Regardless, Widow’s friendship with Bruce and the Hulk has apparently strengthened to the point that she can calm him down. It remains to be seen whether or not she is the one who ends the Hulk/Hulkbuster battle in the city or not, but I would say the odds are pretty good that she might be the reason the Hulk cools off.

Plus, it is cute to hear her say in the trailer, “Oh, boy.” Yeah, no kidding, Widow! Everybody duck, Big Green’s coming through!

Speculation #3: Andy Serkis gets a brief, though more detailed appearance in this trailer than he did in the previous ones. When I first saw him in the earlier trailers, I could not even name him. I saw him and I thought, “Is that Strucker? No, it can’t be – this guy doesn’t look anything like him. But he looks awfully familiar. Who is he?”

Now, for you Serkis fans out there, I am sorry if this offends you. You will just have to keep in mind that I have not seen Andy Serkis playing anyone but Gollum before, and that when he has been interviewed on television, he has appeared entirely different from the character we see in the new Age of Ultron trailer. So I apologize to everybody (including Mr. Serkis) for not recognizing him immediately. If anything, his makeup artist is to be applauded for making him so unrecognizable that he can hide in an Age of Ultron trailer and a few peons will not know him.

So, now that I know this is Andy Serkis dressed up as the vibranium-obsessed Ulysses Klaw, I can at least tell where he is in it.

Speculation #4: Another scene in the new trailer that has sent the Internet into a tizzy shows an African woman in a cave taking off her coat. The scene has me totally baffled. At first, I was not even sure that the person in the shot was a woman. My first thought was, “Is that a young Black Panther? No way, it’s a woman – wait, is it?”

My next thought was, “What does this have to do with Age of Ultron anyway?” And that thought has not left my mind. The scene is a throwaway in my opinion, and it ruins the flow of the trailer, leaving this viewer with more questions than answers. Some people think the mystery woman might be part of the Black Panther’s all-woman bodyguard corps. For now, that is the only answer to the riddle, though my question still stands: What is this scene even doing in a film that shows the Avengers battling an intelligent AI called Ultron, since it appears totally unrelated to all the previous trailers’ contents?!?!? Only viewing the film will tell….rats…

Speculation #5: Near the end of the trailer, we see a shot of Thor getting lit up by lightning. Some theorize that, since the scenery around Thor is Asgardian, this might be the part of the film where he runs back to Asgard after Wanda has shown him a vision of what is to come. Some have even suggested that, since his hammer is not visible in this scene and it appears that he is not generating the lightning but is, instead, being hit with it, Thor’s powers are being taken from him. Again.

I am not sure I buy that theory. It is a possibility, to be sure, and we are still not certain that the Avengers will not be scattered hither and yon across the Marvel Universe by the end of Age of Ultron. But I think this scene is more likely a shot of Wanda messing with Thor’s mind. How else could she scare him back to Asgard in the first place but by bedeviling him with visions of his home being torn apart? But we cannot be certain what is going on in this scene until we see the movie. Sorry, guys.

Speculation #6: There is one thing that has bothered me since I found that clip showing Tony and Cap chopping wood. It is not the scene itself but its setting: The Avengers have clearly been whipped at this point in the film and are taking a breather somewhere in Middle or Suburban America. The problem I have with this scene is the house itself: Who owns it?

I have a few theories. The first is that the Avengers have shown up on some suburbanite family’s doorstep, beaten and bloody, and asked for asylum. This idea, however, has a big flaw in it. After all, if the Avengers have just had their fannies handed to them on a platter by Ultron at this point in the movie, what couple in their right minds would let the Avengers bunk down and hide in their house, possibly bringing a hoard of human-hating robots down on theirs and their children’s heads? It is possible that they might shelter the Avengers despite the risk, but I think most parents’ immediate reactions would be, “Not on your life!”

The second idea I had is that a member of the Avengers set up the house as a refuge, in case something happened and the team had to go underground. The problem with this is that I cannot see Tony selecting a house in a small-town neighborhood as a team hideout. It is inconspicuous, quiet, and simple – the exact opposite of Marvel’s cinematic Tony Stark.

Likewise, Bruce has not had a place all his own since he became the Hulk. He was on the run until Tony invited him to Stark/Avengers’ Tower to play in the lab with him. While Bruce’s fortunes may have improved because of that, I still do not see him having a house, even as a worst-case scenario hideout for the team. Cap and Widow are both more comfortable in the city; the chances of either of them having a house as a refuge for the team that is in the middle of a small town are slim to nil.

If they have to, Cap and Widow will fade away into the lesser known areas of a city or another such place. Houses in the suburbs are not things they automatically call to mind when they decide to disappear. And Thor stays wherever anyone lets him stay here on Earth; his real home is Asgard, so there is no way he has the house. I am not even sure he thinks in terms of Plan A and Plan B to Z and beyond, like the other Avengers would.

That leaves us with the one Avenger we know next to nothing about: Hawkeye. If the house behind Tony and Cap does in fact belong to him, then that could mean four different things:

One: If Marvel’s Ultimate comic book line – which the company started to get Hollywood’s attention – is as strong an influence on the MCU as I think it may be, this might be the house Hawkeye’s family lived in. In the Ultimate comics, Hawkeye was married and had three young children; he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was partnered with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent senior to him. Just after the Ultimates – this comic line’s alternate Avengers – were formed, Hawkeye’s wife and children were brutally murdered. The deaths of his family left Hawkeye suicidal and easily angered; his attitude only got worse when Widow was revealed to be the murderer of his family. He later killed her when she was in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained after she had betrayed the Ultimates.

While it seems Widow is not going to be traveling down that road in the MCU (the audience loves her too much for the writers to do that, I think/hope) this does not mean Whedon could not have found a way to retell this incident in Age of Ultron. After all, in The Avengers, we can account for Hawkeye’s whereabouts while he was under Loki’s command only twice before he arrived on the Helicarrier, where Widow snapped Loki’s control over him: the time where he learned Selvig needed iridium and the theft of said metal from Stuttgart, Germany. Besides those two incidents and the Helicarrier, we have no idea where Hawkeye was or what he was doing for the majority of the film.

And we all remember Loki threatened to have Hawkeye kill Widow “in every way he knows [she fears]” during The Avengers. I do not think Loki would be above having Hawkeye lead him to his family’s house so that he could kill his family while Hawkeye stood by and watched. Knowing that worm, we could also surmise Loki would think it was a lot of fun to just stand back and have Hawkeye murder his family himself, as Lorelei had a man shoot his own wife on her orders in the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, a photo has been posted on marvel.com that shows Tony, Thor, and Cap all standing on the porch of what appears to be the same house where Cap and Tony went out to chop wood. Their expressions each border on horrified. They could be listening to anyone, but there is an outside chance they are listening to Hawkeye tell his gruesome story.

This is one theory I really hope does not pan out, readers. I am not sure Disney would let such a story into one of their movies, but Whedon could very well have written this whole scenario into Age of Ultron. I hope he did not, but the thing is that it is a possibility I have been considering for some time now, and it deserves a mention.

Two: The other theory is that this is Hawkeye’s house, but his family is still alive and using the place. I do not know how likely this theory is – Hawkeye only had a family in the Ultimate comic line; other alternate versions of the character occasionally have him married to his “mainstream” ex-wife Mockingbird, and occasionally he has a son named Francis. (Hawkeye’s full name is Clinton Francis Barton, so that’s where his son gets his name.) Some versions of the character have a daughter instead, but I will not go into those; they are too confusing and ugly.

If this theory is the true one – and I have to say I like it better than my first idea – then it would explain why there are so many people on the porch behind Cap and Tony while the two are out chopping wood.

Three: Another option with regard to the house possibly belonging to Hawkeye is that it might be his childhood home. This would tie in with the original comics pretty well; “mainstream” Hawkeye grew up in rural/suburban Iowa. His father was not the greatest, being prone to drinking and abusive to Hawkeye, his mother, and his older brother. If the house is Hawkeye’s childhood home, then that explains how he would own it and why he would bring the Avengers there. Why on earth would he go back to such a place except in the worst of circumstances? If the team just got kicked in the teeth, there would be no better place to hide them then in the very home Hawkeye tried to forget.

Four: The house may be Hawkeye’s childhood home, but he may not be the one who owns it. Remember that brother I mentioned a moment ago? I do not know if Charles Bernard “Barney” Barton was ever in the Ultimate comics, but he is a feature of Marvel’s “mainstream” comics. In the “mainstream” comics, he and Hawkeye had a falling out years ago, then seemingly reconciled just before Barney was killed.

However, Barney survived the incident and was kept on ice by the very same villain who was supposed to have killed him. Ten or twenty years ago, the writers for the “mainstream” comics brought Barney back, this time as a direct antagonist for Hawkeye, though the two have again seemingly buried the hatchet. (Yeah, sure. I still do not buy the easy solution to that feud. Marvel enjoys complicated reconciliations too much these days to let things go that quietly.)

If Whedon decided to play around with this story instead of the Ultimate comics’ story (not likely, but possible) then it could be that Barney lives in the house with his own family. Whedon might have written it so that Barney is the one with a family and Hawkeye is not; he could easily have written the story so that the two brothers do not see eye-to-eye, while leaving Barney still willing to take the Avengers in for a short period of time.

Of course, all these theories could be completely and totally wrong. In that case, I can honestly say that I think I would be largely relieved; some of these theories are things I would be happy to have not come true, readers.

Speculation #7: Two other possible explanations as to who owns the house where Cap and Tony go out to chop wood are these: the house is a former S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house Fury tells the team about, or Maria Hill purchased the place on the off-chance that the Avengers might someday need an inconspicuous hidey-hole to assemble where they could lick their wounds in peace.

Either of these theories seems more plausible than the ones I detailed above. We have no idea what Fury shows up to tell the Avengers; it could very well be that he wants to give them a list of S.H.I.E.L.D. safe places to hide, as he did in the “mainstream” comics’ Civil War story arc (which will be, apparently, the premise for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War).

Maria Hill may work for Tony now, but there is no way in heck that she would abandon her S.H.I.E.L.D. training. I think she would probably rather stop breathing than being a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, at heart if not in fact. It would make perfect sense to her to buy a place where the Avengers could lay low until they were ready to enter the public eye again.

A third option in this direction is that the house belongs to Erik Selvig. This seems unlikely, but it is possible, I think. Still, we cannot know anything for sure until we see the movie later this year.

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Wow…. That was some serious speculating, readers. Some of it probably counts more as mere hype and questions rather than conjecture, but this Age of Ultron trailer did not have enough new material for me to write a lot about. I had better sign off now, before my fingers fall off with exhaustion.

Later,

The Mithril Guardian